Users Protest and Facebook Changes its Shopping Privacy Policy


Facebook backtracks on its latest privacy invasion tactic. After more than 50,000 Facebook users signed a petition blasting Facebook’s latest changes, Facebook has changed its new advertising and marketing strategy using Beacon to gather and distribute information about purchases Facebook users were making through over 40 popular online shopping sites. Facebook said it provided 2 opportunities to opt out of having your information shared, but many people did not notice the opt-out window before it disappeared and it defaulted to sharing your data.

With the many popups that come up when on the web and knowing that it is not a good idea to click on a popup that you do not recognize, I’m sure many people ignored the popup and had no idea that Facebook was gathering information about their purchases and sharing it with their Facebook friends.

This caused some Facebook users to find out what they were getting as gifts for the holidays and others to have items such as their movie purchases distributed to all their friends without their knowledge. I’m sure that there are people on Facebook who would prefer that the movies they buy are not shared with everyone who knows them on Facebook!

Facebook users rose up in protest and Facebook announced that it would change its policy to one of ‘opt-in’ instead of ‘opt-out’. In other words, you would have to specifically agree to share your purchase information as opposed to specifically saying you do not want it shared.

Here is some information from MSNBC in a post called “Facebook does an About-Face on Privacy Policy” on the purchase gathering and distributing that Facebook implemented about 3 weeks ago:

40 commerce Web sites using Beacon
More than 40 different Web sites, including Fandango.com, Overstock.com and Blockbuster.com, had embedded Beacon in their pages to track transactions made by Facebook users.

Unless instructed otherwise, the participating sites alerted Facebook, which then notified a user’s friends within the social network about items that had been bought or products that had been reviewed.

Facebook thought the marketing feeds would help its users keep their friends better informed about their interests while also serving as “trusted referrals” that would help drive more sales to the sites using the Beacon system.

But thousands of Facebook users viewed the Beacon referrals as a betrayal of trust. Critics blasted the advertising tool as an unwelcome nuisance with flimsy privacy protections that had already exasperated and embarrassed some users.

Some users have already complained about inadvertently finding out about gifts bought for them for Christmas and Hanukkah after Beacon shared information from Overstock.com. Other users say they were unnerved when they discovered their friends had found out what movies they were watching through purchases made on Fandango.

And an apology was offered:

“We’re sorry if we spoiled some of your holiday gift-giving plans,” Facebook’s Paul Janzer wrote in a posting addressed to Beacon’s critics. “We are really trying to provide you with new meaningful ways, like Beacon, to help you connect and share information with your friends.” Janzer also acknowledged Beacon “can be kind of confusing.”

I think that “kind of confusing” is Facebook-Speak for “deliberately misleading”.

This is not the first time Facebook has had users rise up over privacy changes. Last year, Facebook rolled out a “news feeds” tool that tracked changes to users’ profiles. After thousands of users rebelled, Zuckerberg issued a contrite apology and added a way to turn off the news feeds.

I saw that on my (and other friends) Facebook and thought that it was a bit iffy. And actually, I still have it on mine and so does most of the people I know. Even though Facebook offered a way to turn it off, that doesn’t mean that they made it easy or clear. I really didn’t even know it could be turned off until I read the article from MSNBC and I still don’t know how.

And there was the whole debacle about Facebook making people’s profiles available to search engines. I went through the process to do what they said so my profile was not shared, but it was extremely complicated and I really don’t know exactly what I ended up with.

I am so totally against the whole ‘opt-out’ style that Facebook is going with, especially since it is doing some really devious things without people’s knowledge. Yes, there are changes all the time to various social networking sites in order to improve their services. But I really don’t see how Facebook can stand there and say that these fall under that category. Either they don’t care, or they think their users are too stupid to know what they are doing, or both.

These are things I don’t think Facebook should be doing in the first place. But at the least, they should be something that Facebook users can choose to implement only if they want to, and can easily turn it off if they decide against it. Still, I think it is shady to even have it as a part of Facebook.

Facebook has come a long way from when it started and it was a safe and secure site for students to congregate. And while it is nice that it has opened up some, I really don’t see it as being much different from MySpace anymore and in some cases, even less reliable as far as privacy and respect for its users are concerned.

While almost all of the Web 2.0 social networking sites have been pretty decent and relatively trustworthy in my opinion, I am having serious doubts about Facebook. And I think Facebook users should too. It is not what it once was and I’m not sure that Facebook users realize that.

UPDATE: Here is a link to another interesting article called “Takesies Backsies: Facebook Flouts User Privacy… Again“.

~Susan Mellott

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