Facebook Not Welcome under the Tree?

    November 29, 2007

As the holiday season approaches and all the hustle and bustle with it, it always seems as though someone or something tries to ruin all the fun and festivities. At least according to some people, Facebook is the culprit this year.

Facebook recently launched an advertising network called Facebook Beacon that is not sitting well with some people.

Tasha Valdez of Michigan said, “Oh my gosh, my cousins entire Christmas shopping list this week was displayed on the (Facebook News) feed. That’s so messed up. This has got to stop!”

“I don’t want to belong to a site that does this. I’ll delete my account very soon if this isn’t fixed,” said Joshua Nadas from Maryland.

Twenty-year old Matthew Helgott of New York discovered on the News Feed that his girlfriend had bought him black leather gloves for Hanukkah. His surprise gift was ruined.

Helfgott said, “Facebook is ruining Christmas! … She (Helfgott’s girlfriend) said she had no idea (information would be shared). She said it invaded her privacy.”

As a result of the incident, Helfgott’s girlfriend has since deleted her Facebook account.

Allie Sheerer of Pennsylvania said, “I feel I have big brother watching over my shoulder. I never thought I’d have a private company doing this; before I had always worried about government. This is not okay.”

Facebook Beacon is a part of Facebook Business Solutions and is designed to be a promotional tool for businesses.

The Facebook description of the feature says:

“Facebook Beacon actions include purchasing a product, signing up for a service, adding an item to a wish list, and more. When a user performs the action, they will be alerted that your website is sending a story to their profile and have a chance to opt out. No additional user action is needed for the story to be published on Facebook, and users remain in control of their information.”

WebProNews’ Jason Lee Miller first reported that MoveOn.org filed a petition against Facebook. The civic action organization aspires to preserve the Internet and believes Facebook is violating its users’ privacy.

Spokesperson for MoveOn Civic Action, Adam Green said,

“It’s a huge breach of privacy… We love Facebook. We really want them to do the right thing, but it seems like they’re putting privacy on the backseat (and) instead, elevating the needs of their corporate advertisers.”

MoveOn believes Facebook should allow its users to “opt-in” instead of readily assuming they are already in. Currently, Facebook users must “opt-out” or decline sharing their information each time they make a transaction, but they cannot completely withdraw from the program.

Facebook released a preview of screen shots to TechCrunch before the feature was launched. The screen shots revealed Facebook originally planned to let users permanently “opt-out” of having their information distributed across Facebook, but before Beacon launched, they removed the option.

Along with the petition, MoveOn is also asking users to join their Facebook group called, Facebook: Stop Invading my Privacy!” At the time of publication, more than 49,000 Facebook users have joined the group. MoveOn has even paid for ads to be displayed on Facebook as part of their effort.

So, what does Facebook have to say about all this? While a spokesperson was unavailable for an interview, they did release the following statement:

"We encourage feedback from our users on new products, but in this case, the MoveOn.org-led group misrepresents how Facebook Beacon works. Beacon gives users an easy way to share relevant information from other sites with their friends on Facebook. Information is shared with a small selection of a user’s trusted network of friends, not publicly on the Web or with all Facebook users. Users also are given multiple ways to choose not to share information from a participating site, both on that site and on Facebook."

Catch more details of this story including interviews with Matthew Helfgott and MoveOn’s Adam Green by watching the WebProNews video, “Facebook: The Scrooge of 2007?”

At the time of publication, reports from TechCrunch and BusinessWeek say Facebook had discussions of possibly changing the program. However, Facebook has not yet released word of any modifications.