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November 30, 2007

Facebook Beacon to become opt-in

by Charlene Li

I just received word from Facebook that they will be making significant changes to Beacon. I've included the full text of their statement below.

As you may know, I had a situation with Beacon where information from Overstock was sent to Facebook without my knowledge. Because I took no action, the information appeared on my profile.

This is a definitely a step in the right direction -- I argued for greater transparency along with many other people, and it appears Facebook has heard the protest. But given the concerns out there, I think Facebook has to do a lot more to regain the trust of not only its members but also of its partners. Here's a quick summary of the major changes and what it means:

- Facebook members will be given clearer notifications of information sent by partners to Facebook, on both the partner site and on Facebook. Beacon also won't send information to Facebook if it believes that members didn't see a pop-up on the partner site. This was a major problem in my situation -- if a Beacon notification did appear on Overstock, I never got a chance to see it.
- Adding Beacon-generated stories will require an explicit opt-in by the member. Before, if the member did nothing, the story would appear. The changes mean that the user HAS to approve the addition of the story -- so no more inadvertent discoveries of purchases by your friends. (In my the comments of my original post, "Will" bought an engagement ring on Overstock -- and his friends, fiance, fiance's friends, etc. all found out about it)

- If you take not action, stories will be archived and still available for you to take action on later.

- There will be no opt-out option of Beacon, either at the partner level or universally from Facebook. That means that if you really, really can't stand the idea of your information traveling between sites, you have to either never use sites that deploy Beacon or stop using Facebook.

It's this last point that I think is most interesting. Facebook obviously wants to keep Beacon going, and it has taken the first step to give members greater control over when information is posted. I, for one, am comfortable with this, as I find it a pretty convenient way to publish information (like when I bought Beowulf tickets on  went to see Beowulf).

So MoveOn and many of us pushing for change got what we wanted -- the ability to opt-in to stories that appear on our profile. But I believe some privacy advocates will continue to loudly agitate for the full dismantling of the Beacon program. I don't think this will have that big of an impact on members -- after all, MoveOn had 54,000 members of its group as of today, which is significant, but nothing like the hundreds of thousands who petitioned for change after News Feed was introduced last year.

The greater impact will be on nervous partners, some of whom -- like Overstock -- have withdrawn their Beacon participation. Most have taken a wait-and-see approach, weighing the benefits of exposure to their customers' friends network against possible push-back from privacy advocates. My concern is that this mistrust of Beacon spills over and dampens the already nascent beginnings of social media marketing.

It's imperative and in Facebook's best interest -- and the interest of the social networking marketing industry as a whole -- that Beacon be a program that is clear in its intent and execution,and wins over the trust of members and partners.

I'd love to know your thoughts -- has Facebook gone far enough with these changes, or do they need to do more?

Here's the release:

Facebook Update on Changes to Beacon
No stories will be published without users proactively consenting


We appreciate feedback from all Facebook users and made some changes to Beacon in the past day. Users now have more control over the stories that get published to their Mini-Feed and potentially to their friends’ News Feeds.

Here’s how the Beacon changes work:

- Stories about actions users take on external websites will continue to be presented to users at the top of their News Feed the next time they return to Facebook.  These stories will now always be expanded on their home page so they can see and read them clearly.

-  Users must click on “OK” in a new initial notification on their Facebook home page before the first Beacon story is published to their friends from each participating site. We recognize that users need to clearly understand Beacon before they first have a story published, and we will continue to refine this approach to give users choice.

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

- Users will have clear options in ongoing notifications to either delete or publish. No stories will be published if users navigate away from their home page. If they delay in making this decision, the notification will hide and they can make a decision at a later time.

- Clicking the “Help” link next to the story will take users to a full tutorial that explains exactly how Beacon works, with screenshots showing each step in the process.

These changes are in addition to those made earlier to improve the notifications on partner sites as follows:

- Users were sometimes moving away from a page before a notification could be fully displayed. We changed the process so that we confirm the full display of the notification before any information can be sent back to a user’s Facebook account.

- The notification appears more rapidly and is more clearly displayed.

There has been misinformation in the market about some key aspects of how Beacon works:

- Participation in Beacon is free for all partner sites.

- Beacon only allows for the sharing of specific actions on the specific sites participating in Beacon.

- Beacon only has the potential to display actions to a selection of a user’s friends through News Feed and on a user’s Mini-Feed.

- Facebook is not sharing user information with participating sites and never sells user information.

As with all its products, Facebook will continue to iterate quickly and listen to feedback from its users.

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Comments

Jonathan Trenn

Charlene

This isn't opt-in though...at least as far as it relates to Facebook. If you're a member, than you're part of Beacon. What this does is make the default position of sending the notice to your newsfeed to be 'on hold'. The way it is now, Facebook still would know that you or your husband bought that couch/couches from Overstock.com.

Jonathan

Joy

well said. had this program been opt-in from the start - there would have been nothing to shout from the rooftops about - and the privacy advocates would have been seen as selfish 15-minutes-of-fame seekers. people would have genuinely enjoyed the convenience of sharing their public activities on yelp etc. on FB (wouldn't it be wonderful if this comment would be posted to all my friends on FB?) and the world would have been a better place.

but now - what's good has also been painted in black. it's sad.

Joy

well said. had this program been opt-in from the start - there would have been nothing to shout from the rooftops about - and the privacy advocates would have been seen as selfish 15-minutes-of-fame seekers. people would have genuinely enjoyed the convenience of sharing their public activities on yelp etc. on FB (wouldn't it be wonderful if this comment would be posted to all my friends on FB?) and the world would have been a better place.

but now - what's good has also been painted in black. it's sad.

Joy

well said. had this program been opt-in from the start - there would have been nothing to shout from the rooftops about - and the privacy advocates would have been seen as selfish 15-minutes-of-fame seekers. people would have genuinely enjoyed the convenience of sharing their public activities on yelp etc. on FB (wouldn't it be wonderful if this comment would be posted to all my friends on FB?) and the world would have been a better place.

but now - what's good has also been painted in black. it's sad.

Jeremiah Owyang

I wonder how much impact MoveOn's 5000 petitioner helped moved this forward, is this an example of a Groundswell?

LaSandra Brill

Not good enough. How about a permanent opt-out? Thanks to Nate for this post on how to block it from a Firefox browser: http://www.ideashower.com/blog/block-facebook-beacon/

The comments to this entry are closed.