Facebook Beacon Revamp: Will It Go Far Enough?

Facebook may announce alterations to the Beacon social advertising system as early as today, according to BusinessWeek. Perhaps Facebook will now allow global opt-out of publishing third-party activities on the Facebook site — and this would appease many who have complained.

But that may not go far enough in protecting users’ privacy. Some people may also want the ability to stop Facebook not just from publishing information from third-party sites, but also from gathering that information at all.

Many Facebook users have complained that they shouldn’t have to opt out every time Facebook wants to publish transaction information from third-party sites. Besides, some critics say, the opt-out notices are so subtle that many people don’t even notice them.

Blogger and Wiley marketing director, Ellen Gerstein, discovered how subtle those notices were when she congratulated her babysitter on buying a purple ski jacket. Her babysitter had no idea that her Overstock.com purchases were shared on Facebook. Ellen said, “I cannot imagine I would want anyone on Facebook to know what I am purchasing.”

When Facebook announced Beacon, Om called it a potential privacy hairball, noting that even if you opt out of the information publishing, Facebook still knows what you’re doing.

Bokardo blogger Joshua Porter highlights this same problem:

Most people are worried about what happens when the shared information gets back to Facebook, and their Facebook friends see their outside activity….

My main concern was that Facebook and Blockbuster were talking at all.

So when the Facebook announcement comes out, we should be looking not only for the ability to opt out of publishing transaction information to Facebook, but the ability to opt out of sharing any information outside of Facebook as well.

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