Peer Review: Facebook's Beacon is now a dull bulb

Earlier this month, Facebookintroduced a new "feature" called Beacon that tracked its users' activity on 44 websites. It took information like purchases at Overstock.com, recipe favorites at Epicurious, and movie ticket choices at Fandango.com and then broadcasted the information on the users' Facebook home pages and over their news feeds. It was an "opt-out" program, which is to say that all 50 million plus Facebook users from around the world were signed up for it automatically. And the steps users had to take to opt out were not easy or intuitive, which is unusual for a website that prides itself on its simplicity compared to other social networking sites like MySpace.

Riots ensued. Well, not riots exactly, but more than 50,000 users signed a MoveOn.org petition against Beacon, saying it violated users' privacy. Some Facebook users even claimed that Beacon spoiled Christmas because it broadcast information about gifts they purchased online.

Facebook retreated, at first slowly, then finally agreeing on Thursday to change its program completely so that users will have to agree explicitly to have their activity broadcast to friends. The company is also in deep water with its advertisers, many of whom believed that Beacon would be opt-in to begin with.

Facebook users already tell the company their favorite movies, music, TV shows, age, and political views. You'd think targeted advertising would be easy for them. After the jump, we've rounded up commentary about the scandal from around the web. You'll probably want to read it, since we can tell that you just rented Notes on a Scandal from Blockbuster. Just kidding.

This is reminiscent of the Digg Cyber-riot
"[Facebook] has received a harsh lesson on what it means to be in the spotlight, and just how tricky it is to use the demographic and behavior information about its readers for targeted advertising. As social media companies ranging from MySpace to Digg have learned, it's the users, as much as the executives, who are in charge." , CNet

Facebook already looks like Google: it should start acting more like Google
"With such momentum, why is Mr. Zuckerberg grasping for every last penny from investors and every last user for his Beacon service? … Google is as smug and as arrogant as they come. But its smugness manifests itself in the confidence that it will win in the long term so it doesn't need to rush." , The New York Times

MoveOn succeeded with Facebook, next stop, the universe!
"Facebook deserves credit for taking a huge step in the right direction. Their decision will hopefully set a precedent for all websites—: that the wish lists of corporate advertisers must not be put before the basic rights of Internet users." , of MoveOn.org, on theFacebook petition's "group" page

Facebook's not telling your friends what you buy, but it still gets the information
"The immediate defaulting to privacy is sure to appease many critics, but the details may still raise some concerns, for example Facebook is still capturing this data, the only difference now is that it wont automatically share it… the privacy option is really only skin deep." ,Tech Crunch

"Regardless of the fact that I clicked 'No Thanks,' the data of my action as well as the url of the page I viewed was indeed sent to Facebook. In fact, clicking 'No Thanks' sends no additional data to Facebook." , The Idea Shower

Huge mistake guys. Huge.
"How Facebook, whose only real asset is the trust and respect of its users, could show so little respect for people's private actions staggers comprehension.", Salon.com

Facebook is not encouraging war or dumping gas onto otters
"It's pretty damn hilarious to see people treating Facebook (and other Web 9.2 companies) like it's Standard Oil." , CrunchGear

Facebook lied to users and advertisers. Let's socialize somewhere else
"This is bait and switch in the worst sense. It’s time to find a wiki-style open alternative to the crass commercial betrayal that Facebook has perpetrated… Facebook has no intention of retreating from its path." , commenter on Bits

What do you think? We'd never opt-in for Beacon, but we won't stop loving Facebook yet…

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