How To Solve Facebook's Beacon Problem

The controversy over Facebook’s Beacon program, which publicizes your purchases and activities on other sites to your Facebook friends, isn’t going away. It doesn’t matter how many Facebook users are actually upset by Beacon: This is an easy-to-explain story with legs (and Facebook’s competitors will do their best to keep it alive as well). Today’s updates: An AP primer on the problem, and a thumbs-down from Forrester analyst Charlene Li.

Nor is this just a replay from a year ago, when Facebook introduced its “news feed”, which automatically told Facebok users what their friends were up to. Facebook users bitched about the innovation then, and it’s now one of the site’s core features.

But it’s one thing to share your Facebook life with your Facebook friends; it’s quite another to share your “real world” life with them. And since Facebook has opened up to the general public, there are now a lot of old farts (35+ year olds) on the site who are even more skeeved out by this kind of thing.

Luckily, this is an easy problem for Mark Zuckerberg and co. to solve…

The short-term solution: Turn off Beacon until you can make it fully opt-in. Tell Facebook’s partners that Beacon’s on hold until they create a system that requires their users to sign up for the program. And make it a double opt-in, so everyone’s sure what they’re getting into.

The long-term solution: Let users sign up for Beacon via Facebook, and give them a reason to do so. While a loud minority of Facebook’s users will have a problem with Beacon, most of them won’t care at all. They’re used to broadcasting every minute detail of their lives online; sharing their purchases won’t freak them out. So just give them the chance to sign up for Beacon via Facebook, and give them a mild carrot to do so: Anyone who signs up gets 12 free ringtones, or a month of free broadband, or whatever. It won’t take much — just give Facebook users the chance to willingly expose themselves, instead of having someone else do it. And the Beacon problem will go away.

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