Over 50,000 people protested Facebook's invasion of privacy last month following the release of the Beacon advertising platform. The controversial program tracks the browsing and purchase history of Facebook users on over 40 websites, and publishes them in the user's news feed. Many users of the social networking site were unaware the advertising program even existed, and were angered when Christmas purchases were published for their friends and family to see without approval.
Facebook has been condemned by critics for its invasion of privacy several times before, but the announcement to make changes to Beacon marks the first concession Facebook has made in response to these protests. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote an apology yesterday for the way the site handled the flawed advertising program, following a press release detailing changes to Beacon on Nov., 30.
In his blog, Zuckerberg claimed that the intent of Beacon was to find new and meaningful ways for users to share information with each other, while making it simple enough that they didn't have to jump through hoops in order to turn it on. Unfortunately, Zuckerberg didn't count on people taking this to be an invasion of privacy, occurring without consent. Consequently, Facebook has made some changes to the program.
Users now must approve Beacon if they want to use it--something that had previously required Facebook users to opt-out of if they didn't want to take part--before an item can be published in the news feed.
Although this news comes as a win for privacy advocates, users should be cautioned by Facebook's response. Facebook still has access to a disgusting amount of personal information, and it seems unlikely that they didn't at least partially think through the implications of Beacon before implementing it. Perhaps a great deal more concerning is the idea they didn't consider the implications, given that users continue to trust social networks like Facebook to protect their privacy, even after this display of gross incompetence. Users should remain weary of what other sorts of privacy breaches may come in the future and should avoid blindly buying in to promises of keeping user interests in mind.
Beacon can be turned off here.