Facebook has begun to respond to the ever-growing dismay about its Beacon social ad program. The gist of the response? We’ll say whatever we think we need to to get you people to stop whining. But we’re not letting you opt out.
Facebook’s Paul Janzer:
Thanks for your feedback about Facebook Beacon, it has definitely helped us make some changes to the product that we hope will provide you with a better experience on Facebook.
Beacon was designed to help you share all the interesting things that you are doing outside of Facebook with your friends.
[And, more importantly, help make us money…]
Just like you have full control over your information on Facebook, you decide whether or not you want Beacon stories to be published and from which site.
[For example, if you don’t want us to report that you’ve bought a product on a third-party site, you can jump through several hoops to tell us not to report it each time. You can’t tell us not to watch what you buy, because we’re going to do that whether you want us to or not. That’s our decision, not yours.]
Your feedback has made it clear that Beacon can be kind of confusing.
[Or, more accurately, “infuriating.” What? “Kind of confusing” sounds patronizing? Oh. Whatever.]
To fix this, we are clarifying the way we inform you about a Beacon story before you decide whether or not you’d like to publish it on Facebook.
[Translation: We are going to explain more clearly that we have decided to watch what you do everywhere on the web. We will grant you the ability to prevent us from turning what you do into news. But only because we feel like it. And only if you jump through hoops every time]
We’re also working on making the sites that offer Beacon more visible to you, both on Facebook and through visual cues, so you can determine which specific sites you can publish stories from.
[Er, which sites WE publish stories from.]
We’re sorry if we spoiled some of your holiday gift-giving plans.
[Well said! Suggestion: In future, begin with the apology.]
Facebook users weigh in on the Facebook Response:
No mention of an opt-out system. I’m not going to spend my time to check and make sure I’m logged out of the site and double checking to make sure by chance I’m not missing the alerts of something getting posted to my feeds every time I shop online. It’s just too much paranoia. I’ll be avoiding all sites that use Beacon until this option becomes fully available.
I think the real questions are: 1) Will Beacon become clearly and obviously an opt-in system?
Thank you for your update. However, it fails to address most of our concerns. Facebook’s response to the users’ concerns about the minifeed in summer 2006 was excellent. I urge you to emulate that response by giving us the option to opt-out of Beacon BEFORE it attempts to publish any stories about us. If the privacy of your users, and not advertising dollars, is really the priority, this is the only logical choice.
Paul, that was a masterpiece of dissimulation. Good work! Beacon is a great idea – anything that helps tie the web together into a coherent whole like this is a great idea – but that kind of power has to be in the hands of users. You haven’t put it there, and you clearly don’t want to, but it’s the right thing to do, and you need to recognise that doing what’s right by your users is the only viable long-term strategy for Facebook, and suck it up. There’s a company somewhere over in Mountain View that has as a motto “don’t be evil”; they’ve stuck to that fairly well, they’ve built more trust amongst their users than probably any other company in the history of the web, and they’re doing pretty well as a result.
Can i just pick you up on one thing: “you decide whether or not you want Beacon stories to be published and from which site” That’s a lie. The fact is that you can’t currently decide whether or not you want Beacon stories to be published – you can block individual sites, but there’s no way to express a decision that Beacon stories shouldn’t be published at all. We know that, you know that, and lying to our faces isn’t going to impress anyone.
Paul, thanks for responding at least in part. However, it’s clear you’re still avoiding the issue, and in particular, avoiding facing the reality of what you’ve been doing here. Sounding “innocent” about a feature that was clearly designed to trick people into using it (possibly with the hope that once tricked, they’d end up liking it) is just going to make a lot of people feel more frustrated, and trust Facebook even less.