Coca-Cola’s decision to pause and rethink their involvement with Facebook’s Beacon advertising program was a big topic of discussion over the weekend in this corner of the Internet we call the blogosphere. It was a particularly shocking reversal given that Coke was one of the landmark partners of Facebook’s new social advertising effort. Coke, to put it bluntly, threw Facebook under the bus, essentially shirking away from their own role in the Beacon controversy, much like 44 other partners who teamed up with Facebook.
“We have adopted a bit of a ‘wait and see’ as far as what we are going to do with Beacon because we are not sure how consumers are going to respond,” Carol Kruse, Coke’s vice president of global interactive marketing, told The New York Times. She thought Beacon was an opt-in program. “That’s what I heard before as well as what I heard on the 6th.” Not sure about about you, but I ain’t buying Coke’s excuse.
Kruse’s comments led me to these questions:
1. Did Facebook lie to Coke?
2. Did Coke get snookered?
3. Or both?
4. Did Coke really ask all the right questions about privacy, opt-in and automatic enrollment before signing on?
How did Coke or Verizon or Blockbuster expect this data would be collected? In fact, did anyone really ask the tough questions of Facebook? Because if they did, then they all were very well aware of what they were signing up for. And if they didn’t ask the right questions, well…why didn’t they? I guess big dollars signs clouded common sense.
Some potential partners Facebook tried to sign up before launching Beacon, asked the opt-in vs. opt-out questions, and in the end decided to stay on the sidelines because of concerns for the privacy of their community. All of the partners — everyone from Overstock to Blockbuster to Fandango — are equally complicit in this mess.
In the coming days, many of them, like Coke, will feign ignorance, show surprise and duck for cover. But the fact of the matter is that they were transmitting information about their customers to Facebook in hopes of earning more dollars via this new thing called frimping, i.e. pimping stuff to your friends. And if they want us to do that, well they should be held to the same standard as Facebook, and offer everyone an opportunity to opt in to this new kind of advertising program.
Update: Travelocity and Overstock.com are stepping away from Beacon.