Facebook Refreshes Ad System After Privacy Protest

Facebook makes its Beacon ad system an opt-in choice after a petition from 50,000 users over privacy concerns.

Caving to the pressure of a petition signed by 50,000 people who felt their privacy was being infringed, Facebook had made it easier for users to opt out of a new ad system that tracks users online activities and shares them with their friends.

The changes, announced Nov. 29, will let Facebook users decide whether they want to participate in Beacon, a key component of Facebooks ads system geared to target users and generate more revenues for the company.

When the system was launched Nov. 6, 44 Web sites were able to home in on users transactions by embedding a few lines of code to their site. When a user made a purchase on a Beacon partner site, such as Blockbuster.com or Fandango, a popup told the buyer the information will be sent to Facebook.

If users didnt click an opt-out button that appeared on the site, Beacon partners alerted Facebook, which posted the transaction in the News Feeds section of friends pages.


Click here to read more about Facebooks new ad platform.

The result was disastrous, with users complaining that their friends were tipped off to Christmas purchases, or citing embarrassment over having seen a film they didnt want their friends to know they saw.

To remedy the situation, Facebook is letting users opt in rather than requiring them to opt out of letting friends know when a transaction is made on participating site.

Facebook officials told eWEEK in a statement users must now click on "OK" in a new notification on their Facebook home page before the first Beacon story or details about an action is published to their friends from each participating site.

If a user does nothing with the initial notification on Facebook, it will hide without a story being published. When a user takes a future action on a Beacon site, it will reappear and display the potential stories along with the opportunity to click "OK" to publish or click "remove" to not publish.

The changes came after MoveOn.org launched an online petition Nov. 20 calling for Facebook to make changes to Beacon to ensure greater privacy.

The petition was viral, with more than 5,000 members signing in the first day and more than 50,000 by Nov. 29. Facebook members set up a group page protesting Beacon here.


Facebook users protest Beacon. Click here to read more.

IDC analyst Rachel Happe said the privacy brouhaha shows that Facebook didnt adequately test the Beacon feature, though she credited the company for trying to implement a new ad construct.

"The theory behind Beacon is not bad, but the way they have implemented it shows that they didnt do sufficient homework before rolling it out," Happe told eWEEK.

This isnt the first time Facebook has drawn the ire of its users over privacy concerns.

In September 2006, more than 700,000 people signed a petition to get a new Facebook News Feed feature turned off for those who didnt want it.


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