At long last, Facebook is finally on its way to putting its Beacon troubles to rest. Following a class action lawsuit filed by 20 disgruntled Facebook users in August of last year, the social network said Friday that it has agreed to a settlement. Though the agreement is still pending approval by a judge, Facebook is likely relieved that it can soon lock Beacon’s skeleton in the closet and throw away the key.
According the Facebook, the settlement includes two parts: The social network will shut down Beacon completely and pair the few straggling Beacon customers with other services; and it will establish a $9.5 million independent foundation dedicated to funding projects and initiatives that promote online privacy, security and safety once the settlement is approved. This is a slight slap on the wrist for Facebook, since the concept for Facebook Connect was derived from Beacon and is now implemented on over 15,000 web sites. And despite a snag this summer with spammy advertising networks, Facebook’s image has healed since the Beacon fiasco. The social network’s audience has grown to more than 300 million users worldwide and was chosen by a sample of U.S. adults as one of the top 10 most trusted American companies when it comes to privacy, according to survey findings released last week.
Facebook said it has learned from “the big mistake” that was Beacon. According to a statement from Barry Schnitt, Facebook’s director of Policy Communications:
We learned a great deal from the Beacon experience. For one, it was underscored how critical it is to provide extensive user control over how information is shared. We also learned how to effectively communicate changes that we make to the user experience. The introduction of Facebook Connect — a product that gives users significant control over how they extend their Facebook identity on the Web and share experiences back to friends on Facebook — is an example of this.
The company has grown up since November 2007, when Beacon was launched. Today, the social network is cash-flow positive, and it is more diligent when it comes to handling privacy concerns. The clearest example of this was when Facebook announced last month that it would enact sitewide changes to its privacy policies to comply with Canadian law. Though Facebook had gotten into hot water with other governments regarding its privacy policies in the past, the social network was keen on taking the Canadian government’s concerns seriously.
We’ll keep an eye out on when the settlement is approved. In the meantime, let’s hope Facebook has indeed learned from its past errors and doesn’t make the same mistake twice.