Facebook’s “social ads” so far appear to be a flop. Not only was the “once in a hundred years” announcement largely a yawn, the complaints of Facebook users and MoveOn about the primal annoying-ness of “Beacon” are right on the money.
Although we can’t imagine why MoveOn can’t find something better to do than complain about Facebook, we do note the speed with which 1) Facebook responded to MoveOn’s complaint, and 2) 2,000 Facebook users signed up to support MoveOn. And we don’t blame them. We already hate the idea of bombarding friends with lists of the crap we buy. The fact that Facebook will only let us opt-out of that bombardment on a case-by-case basis (at the virtual cash register at third-party sites) is infuriating.
Facebook should immediately make Beacon 100% opt-in. Not because MoveOn is complaining–because the current system will drive users right out the door. The tiny minority of Facebookers who want to bombard friends with lists of the crap they buy–and friends who are actually interested in hearing about this–can elect to do so. The vast majority who don’t should never have to hear about this ridiculous concept again.
(And if this embarrassing backtrack hurts Facebook’s ability to raise more money at a $15 billion valuation, so be it: This is the right thing to do for the long-term health of the company, and the fund-raising effort seems to be in trouble anyway).
“If Facebook’s argument is that sharing private information with hundreds or thousands of someone’s closest ‘friends’ is not the same as making that information ‘public,’ that shows how weak Facebook’s argument is,” Green said in an e-mail. “Facebook users across the nation are outraged that the books, movies, and gifts they buy privately on other sites are being displayed publicly without permission–and it’s time for Facebook to reverse this massive privacy breach.”
The WSJ, meanwhile, added the detail about the 2,000 Facebook users who immediately signed up to support MoveOn. It also provided a description of the way the annoying Beacon system works.
The backlash comes as online advertisers experiment with “behavioural targeting,” or sending people ads based on personal information about them. A common type of behavioural targeting involves tracking the Web sites an Internet user visits in order to send them ads that are relevant to their interests.
Facebook, critics argue, takes its advertising beyond that by collecting specific data about its users’ activities on outside sites and broadcasting that data to their friends and acquaintances. Critics of the new feature say the Palo Alto, Calif., company makes it difficult to opt out of it.
Users can’t opt out of the program, called “Facebook Beacon,” altogether. Instead, they have to opt out on a case-by-case basis when they use one of the outside sites.
MoveOn notes the absurdity of having Beacon be “opt-out” at all (let alone opt-out on a case-by-case basis):
“The opt-out is very well hidden,” [MoveOn spokesman Adam Green] said. “It basically pops up for a second and then goes away, and it’s on the bottom of your screen when you’re purchasing on a totally unrelated Web site, so you aren’t even looking for it.” He added that there’s not a universal opt-out, so members have to repeat the process on each partner site. “Even if you see the opt-out and jump through the hoops of opting out once, that doesn’t solve the problem.”… “The bottom line,” MoveOn spokesman Adam Green said in an interview with CNET News.com, “is that no Facebook user should have their private purchases online posted for the entire world to see without their explicit opted-in permission.”