Blocking Beacon

I am usually a defender of Facebook. But this time I think they have overstepped the line and have introduced a ‘feature’ that makes me personally uncomfortable. From The Facebook Blog:

Just as Facebook shares your on-site interactions with your friends through News Feed, we now give you an option to let News Feed share your off-site actions with your friends as well.

News Feed created a huge privacy concern when it was introduced last year. But I didn’t buy the complaints then. News Feed amounted to Facebook displaying things you did on Facebook. If you don’t want your Facebook friends to know something, perhaps you shouldn’t do the action on Facebook. Just a suggestion.

However, Project Beacon is on a completely new level. Now Facebook friends may know about things that I do on sites that aren’t Facebook. There is no way of knowing whether or not a website is going to report to Facebook what you are doing. As this blog post points out:

It’s a little bit creepy to know that if I visit the Internet Porn Emporium, this store might attempt to tell Facebook that I’m a patron.

And although you can select for the information not to appear on your News Feed, Facebook will apparently still have the data.

It just feels a little bit like it’s too much of my private information getting into the hands of too many people without me necessarily knowing. There is a brilliant comment at Mashable which makes another good point about this:

Letting my friends know that I ordered x, y, and z from Amazon doesn’t sound very appealing. Could also totally spoil the surprise of a birthday gift or something.

So I will be blocking Facebook Beacon.

Via Tom’s View of the World’s Delicious account.

5 comments

  1. I’ve been having a converstaion with Facebook support (as have quite a few others from the various posts I’m reading on the subject – beacon appears to be faily unpopular amongst people who care about privacy.)

    Their responses have not yet been particularly encouraging. My biggest concern is that although I can block a site *once that site has tried to post to my account* – I can’t just “turn off the feature entirely” unlike most other parts of facebook – I can turn off other things, I have to opt-in (or not) to all those applications (a few of which I do opt in to – most of which I don’t) – I should be able to completely opt out of having other sites update my newsfeed.

    As you say, the sites are still sharing the data with facebook – In individual cases, check their privacy policy – if they say they won’t share information on your use of their site, ask them why they are – and vote with your feet – boycott sites which pass details to facebook, use the firefox plugin to block beacon and above all else *tell facebook* that you’re doing this – if they start seeing large user backlashes, they’ll likely do something about it.

  2. The Facebook Beacon (and why it’s a bad idea)…

    Facebook have introduced a new data harvesting system to assist in targetting advertising to it’s users, using 3rd party websites to gather data on their behalf.
    With the help of some clever javascript, and some co-operative 3rd party websites …

  3. Surely you have to inform the site that you have Facebook?

    Also at Amazon you can alter your view/purchase history manually so that you don’t spoil people’s gifts, although I’m not entirely sure how.