Facebook does a Faceplant

Facebook announced in a statement posted on its website that it had made some changes to its Beacon online ad-system. The changes came after more than 50,000 users signed a petition, complaining that Beacon was too intrusive and too confusing to opt out of.

“According to PC World, a Computer Associates researcher claims that Beacon, when installed on participating sites, is sending data about users’ activity back to Facebook, even when a user is logged out of Facebook – despite Facebook’s claims to the contrary.”

   Beacon is an advertising platform that tracks Facebook’s member transactions on third-party partner sites and transforms them into product/service endorsements. Beacon is a major part of the Facebook Ads platform that Facebook introduced with much fanfare several weeks ago. Beacon tracks certain activities of Facebook users on more than 40 participating Web sites, including those of Blockbuster and Fandango, and reports those activities to the users’ set of Facebook friends, unless told not to do so.

Since then, Users’ data on their activities at those participant websites has been flowing back to Facebook automatically without the option to block that information from being transmitted.  Nice.

 Users are able to opt out but only on case-by-case basis, which means that they must opt-out for each of the more than 44 participant websites. That’s right, 44.  As a consequence, Facebook users  are going ballistic.  Facebook had to adjust Beacon to make it work more implicit and user friendly; and to make it easier to nix a broadcast message and opt out of having activities tracked on specific Web sites.

“Users must click on ‘OK’ in a new initial notification on their Facebook home page before the first Beacon story is published to their friends from each participating site,” the statement reads.”

 Also, Facebook’s Beacon now offers to the users clear options in ongoing notifications to either delete or publish. If they delay in making this decision, the notification will hide and they can make a decision at a later time.

But Facebook didn’t go all the way to providing a general opt-out option for the entire Beacon program, as some had hoped. Expect the fallout to continue as Facebook scrambles to figure out how to play with the big boys before being black balled. If they don’t do some major damage repair and assure users that they are not abusing their data, folks will be leaving quicker than kids at a party that the cops show up at.

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