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Zuckerberg's Mea Culpa, Not Enough

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Update: Frankly, I am myself getting sick and tired of repeating myself about the all-important “information transmission from partner sites” aspect of Beacon. That question remains unanswered in Zuckerberg’s blog post, which upon second read is rather scant on actual privacy information. Here is what he writes:

If you select that you don’t want to share some Beacon actions or if you turn off Beacon, then Facebook won’t store those actions even when partners send them to Facebook.”

So essentially he’s saying the information transmitted won’t be stored but will perhaps be interpreted. Will this happen in real time? If that is the case, then the advertising “optimization” that results from “transmissions” is going to continue. Right!

If they were making massive changes, one would have seen options like “Don’t allow any web sites to send stories to Facebook” or “Don’t track my actions outside of Facebook” in this image below.


I think Facebook needs to clarify this point further, because currently, despite this mea culpa, I don’t think it’s easy to trust Facebook to do the right thing with the information they continue to collect. You can also share your thoughts on our Facebook Question of the Day Application. (Original post below the fold.)

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, after taking it on the chin for nearly two weeks, is apologizing about the company’s Beacon advertising platform fiasco. In his blog post, in which he explains his side of the story and rationalizes his reasoning, there is one paragraph which says it all:

We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. While I am disappointed with our mistakes, we appreciate all the feedback we have received from our users.

He goes onto say that while he thought Beacon was a great idea, the company might have gone overboard.

The problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.

No shit! I think they tried to push the limits, and got some push back, and that’s that. Regardless, had people not contacted them, as Zuckerberg puts it, they would have gotten away with it.

Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.

I think this is a good move by Zuckerberg and I hope his team learns from it. This is the second time they have tried to test the limits of their community and gotten some flack for it. It would be better if they asked — they are a social community — and being social means listening and talking with each other first, not after the fact.

Our entire coverage of the Beacon Gate

71 Responses to “Zuckerberg's Mea Culpa, Not Enough”

  1. This whole Beacon episode if you notice from radical product launch to privacy outcry to sober apology. All this has been remarkably similar to the progression of events that accompanied Facebook’s introduction of the News Feed last year. Indeed, the combination of reckless product launch and considered response appears to be a Facebook trademark. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
    What they learned was that if you put something out there, people complain about it, you fix it and then people embrace it.

    Common lets all of us stop cribbing about this. There are a whole of other user expectations Facebook lives up to.


  2. I hope the masses revolt from Facebook. Frankly, the whole platform and site annoy me. And the arrogance attitude along with its privacy practices of the company just is icing on the cake.

    The amount of press written over this company is astonishing. And for what? A company that is basically Friendster connecting people together, with blaring ads all over the place, and practices that mislead people and violate every known privacy practice on the web?

    Does anyone just say hey wait a minute – Is this really that revolutionary? The problem they are solving is quick communication to friends, something the world solves with a simple email distribution list. Everything else including the silly apps, don’t do a lot for me. I could care less about virtual teddy bears, and other trinkets, or that my friends like or don’t like those trinkets.

    Sure their grown is impressive. So, was MySpace, until it became yesterday’s news.

  3. Zuck: Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information
    Me: Oh really like NewsFeeds which was unilaterally released without user approval and Beacon which gives no control to users – who the zuck are you kidding?
    What the zuck are you smoking – no one else believes this but you.

    Zuck: The problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.
    Me: Commonly known as “hubris”. Not a good trait on the ‘net.
    Email lists learned this lesson when you were in middle school – instead of dissing older people because they are dumb you may want to look at history and learn so you don’t have to make the same mistakes over and over again with an audience of N x 10million users. Catch up with this century’s privacy standards when you have a moment out of the echo chamber, dude.

    Zuck: But we missed the right balance. At first we tried to make it very lightweight so people wouldn’t have to touch it for it to work.
    Me: WTZ? You mean you made it so slimy that no one would know you were doing it until it turned up on publicly viewable pages. And you actually thought N x 10 million people would just go along with this because….? Just plain zucking dumbness and blindness of arrogance comes to mind …

  4. @NickH First off, Beacon partners send data to Facebook even if you have opted out and are logged out of Facebook.

    Second, Google’s practices are completely transparent. They explain it all to you and you can get there on the main page. Google even shows you how you can do it.

    Third, Google can’t datamine your info the same way facebook can: Google knows what you surf, but not who you are. Facebook knows everything that you tell it.

    Fourth, Google’s cookies can be cleared or blocked DIRECTLY on your browser. Facebook avoids that entirely.

    Fifth,facebook lied to the press several times leading up to today and Zuckerberg still hasn’t addressed the data transmission for those who’ve opted out except by saying it doesn’t store the information. If that is the case, why do they send it?

  5. Om,

    Though you raise valid points, which many users have argued for and against, the primary difference in the Beacon ad platform isn’t just serving ads based on your behavior, it is reporting and ad serving to your network based on your behavior. Beacon is a clumsy and wreckless attempt at monetizing word of mouth marketing based on a given user’s buying behavior. Conventional ad wisdom purports that an advertiser optimize ad messaging based on the target customer’s behavior. Beacon assumes that this behavior maps to the customer’s social network online, and that the user would not object to sharing their buying behavior with their social network. This conflicts with conventional ad wisdom given that word of mouth validation is lacking in Beacon, AND the sharing of the customer’s buying behavior is HUGELY intrusive.

    Personal preferences are… well personal! Word of mouth, on the other hand, is somewhat sacred in that it is part of what makes real social interaction REAL. What a novel concept. Perhaps if the management of Facebook were more experienced and knowledgeable (both education and business experience), then perhaps they would not have made such a green marketing mistake with Beacon.

    Facebook could have also done market testing with both focus groups and customer surveys. It is doubtful that Beacon would have survived market testing. This is marketing 1, and Facebook gets an F.

  6. @Mario,

    You are way off base here. Not sure where the unrelated comments originate, but Om’s points are on point as far as transparency is concerned. If you’re not clear here, try business school, law school, or some college of any sort that may teach you the fundamentals of critical analysis.

    It’s okay to disagree with Om’s points, or any of the readers points. However, don’t attack race, religion, preference, or someone’s choice of shoes. It isn’t necessary, intelligent, practical, or useful.

    This said, be respectful in your disagreements. This would be warmly welcomed by all.

  7. Chris,

    So because facebook is doing this inline and doubleclick / google / tacoda only do this on the back end, this makes facebook significantly worse? What am I missing?

  8. @NickH

    To my knowledge, those sites do not involve the transmission of data from one site to another. Google, as far a I know, relies heavily on cookies, which can be controlled by the user in their browse. Beacon does not.

  9. Om:

    I completely agree.

    Opt-Out still makes members initiate the process. I would argue that most FB members are completely unaware of what’s going on or how their data is being used. For Opt-Out to work, FB will need to inform the community of what that actually means and how member data is being used. Without educating, FB isn’t listening, they are still duping the majority of the members, IMHO.

  10. So what will happen if behavioral ads becomes the de facto form of online advertising. It basically follows you around. should we stop using the internet? On the other hand, Google knows more about you than Facebook. How do we opt-out of Google? That lovely search bar on your Firefox does more than you think. It’s a spyware.

  11. Not sure I understand why FaceBook is taking so much heat for what other firms actively engage in all the time. Tacoda’s entire business model is built on behavioral targeting. There would be absolutely no difference in the latent interpretation and ad optimization (aka targeting) behavior if FB decided to become a paying customer of Tacoda or any of the other behavioral targeting firms. The only difference here is they built beacon themselves.

    Granted… FB does use some borderline grey hat techniques to actually exchange the data without getting knocked down as XSS (for more info check out
    ), but I view that as pretty darn innovative.

    If you are going to bash FB… bash the behavioral targeting industry as a whole.. and include all of Tacoda’s customers on your blacklists (which would basically mean not visiting any of the Internet top 10)

  12. Now it becomes incumbent on the partner sites to state their privacy policy regarding Beacon – whether they will share their information with FB or not as a default. I am assuming here that third parties can not access FB cookie to being with.

  13. Mario,

    Obviously you’re into conspiracy theories, so perhaps your time might be better spent actually analyzing the facts of this particular situation instead of invoking innuendo to hide your obvious xenophobic tendencies. See a shrink, man.

  14. For all the respect you built up with your insights and analysis in the techbiz space, I am dissappointed to see you sink to this level

    get your ego out of the way for being not responded to in a timely manner and let this go

    privacy is a red herring, use any of the other services out there if you dont like what Facebook does

    for the immense value i get from having siblings, university friends and business contacts all on one of the most successful and powerful networking platforms and it is fun and I enjoy being on there all the time

    if they have to share my birthday with coca-cola to provide all that value FREE, then by all means go ahead, i consciously and willingly put it in there

    like the man says: this is an ad-supported business or does the great OM carry the cost for his little media empire himself
    or maybe there’s a deeper issue here: Zuckerberg vs. Malik, there is a lot of meaning to be derived from those names or maybe it has more to do with Palestine not being recognised on Facebook

    tin foil hat aside be careful not to overplay your hand, the american dream worked out for you, dont mess it up

  15. Oh Om, you’re such a cynic. But thank heavens there is at least one cynic in the blogosphere.

    Looking at all of the “coverage” via Techmeme, you’re the only one still asking questions. Everyone else seems in a hurry to forgive and forget.

    You’re right. Why are Beacon partners sending data to Facebook when people have opted out? Even more pertinent, why are they sending information on people who don’t even have a Facebook profile?

    I have the list of Beacon partners pasted on the wall behind my monitor, just as a reminder of which sites not to visit.

    From what I’ve learned reading the court documents and Zuckerberg’s own testimony, Facebook owes its existence to deception. I have no reason to believe that anything has changed.

  16. Has anyone else notice that he has NOT addressed the issue of affiliates transmitting data about NON-FB users. Frankly, “…saying the information transmitted won’t be stored…” doesn’t cut it!

  17. Occam’s Razor might encourage us to believe that Beacon wasn’t some attempt to get away with something, but the result of a really young CEO’s assumption that all people share his (and his generation’s) disregard for privacy.

    But does Zuckerberg’s motivation matter when you’re deciding whether to trust Facebook? Beacon, and the way Facebook has tried to recover from user reactions (and the way Facebook has managed app invitations) suggests that at some fundamental level the Facebook management team just doesn’t respect user privacy. Maybe we can force fixes for the mistakes we can see, but the company will probably just keep trying to share more of our info without our knowledge, and some of these attempts will be invisible to us.

    If they want to build user trust they should announce a company philosophy of complete transparency and user control over personal information, and then they should back up that philosophy with re-designed features, interface and internal processes. Otherwise, next!

  18. Bob LeMond

    Well, to late. I shut down my profile. This company can not be trusted. Zuckerberg has a brite future but he needs to really grow up and gain some experience before he can run a company this size.
    The generic PR template that “we are sorry” just does not cut it.

    This company in no different than Club Penguin targeting teens and young adults whose greatest asset is time, not money. Time will tell, but they will NEVER become the next Google. There are already far to many companies doing the same thing and their “offering” is NOT disruptive imo.

  19. Your last line really hits the nail on the head. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and each time it happens again it makes people more skeptical/wary of what Facebook is doing. It would be really easy to get user opinion beforehand as they already have the tools to do so…why they wouldn’t do something so seemingly obvious is beyond me. Hell, they’d probably even get suggestions on improving such ideas (and they’d be free!).