More than 5,000 Facebook members have signed a petition protesting the social networks decision to allow businesses to reach users in the companys social network of 52 million users. Known as Beacon, Facebooks new online ad network lets advertisers target audiences through friends referrals.
Facebook encourages companies to get "word-of-mouth promotion for your business" to millions by using the feature. Facebook also allows its members to opt out of the ad system.
However, the liberal advocacy group Moveon.org claims Facebooks Beacon violates its users privacy by imposing an opt-out regime instead of an opt-in system. Moveon.org launched an online petition drive to change Facebooks mind, and as of Nov. 21, 5,316 Facebook users had signed the petition.
"Facebook users across the nation are outraged that the books, movies and gifts they buy privately on other sites are being displayed without permission to lots of people—and Facebook needs to reverse this massive privacy breach," MoveOn.org spokesman Adam Green said in a statement.
"They should respect privacy by switching to an opt-in process like most other Facebook applications, not opt-out—which was solely designed to benefit corporate advertisers."
Facebook officials said the information is not public and not an invasion of users privacy.
"Information is shared with a small selection of a users trusted network of friends, not publicly on the Web or with all Facebook users," Facebook official said in a statement. "Users also are given multiple ways to choose not to share information from a participating site, both on that site and on Facebook."
According to Facebook, when a user makes a purchase on a Beacon partners site, a popup tells the buyer the information will be sent to Facebook. At that point, the buyer can decline to have the information moved on. If the buyer agrees, a message seeking permission to share that information with friends will appear the next time the user logs on to Facebook.
"If Facebooks argument is that sharing private information with hundreds or thousands of someones closest friends is not the same as making that information public, that shows how weak Facebooks argument is," Green said in an e-mail to eWEEK. "Tell that to the person whose whole Christmas shopping list is revealed or to the employee whose employer sees every book and movie they order online."
As Facebook beckons to businesses, who beckons to users? Click here to read more.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a Nov. 6 Beacon launch event that advertising messages will be distributed through the social graph, a network of connections through which people get together and share information online. When people check out a business Facebook page, they will trigger the spread of information about that business throughout the social graph.
Users can share information about businesses with their friends and interact directly with the business through its Facebook page by adding reviews or uploading photos.
"Zuckerberg has to realize that there is a reason Friendster, Myspace, etc. ... are going the way of the grave yard," Facebook user Yahya R. wrote in a typical post to the protest petition. "Like any business, if you dont treat your customer base well, something better will come along and people will leave."
Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.