(U-WIRE) LAS VEGAS – Once a company that could do little wrong, Facebook has again angered its users over a privacy-related issue.While the ruckus raised over its News Feed feature, which alerted users to their friends’ profiles and status updates, was dubious at best, Facebook’s new Beacon has quickly become a hot-button issue with good reason.
Beacon was announced on Nov. 6, quietly and with little fanfare. The feature extended News Feed notifications to include when a user’s friends visited websites that had partnered with Facebook and posted certain actions — for instance, reading an article from The New York Times, posting a new blog entry on LiveJournal, or purchasing a pair of shoes from Henderson-based Zappos.com — as items on the News Feed. The feature in itself was not a blatant privacy violation, but the ability to choose to opt in or out was forgotten somewhere in development, much like what happened with News Feeds.
As users discovered Beacon, often accidentally, the same backlash and privacy invasion accusations that occurred at the launch of News Feeds happened again. Numerous Facebook groups were created in response to the feature, one of the largest has over 62,500 members as of this writing. Activist group MoveOn.org also jumped into the mix, creating and promoting the aforementioned Facebook group.
One of the largest complaints about Beacon tied in with the holiday season. Many users expressed concern for the risk of Christmas presents and other holiday presents purchased for friends or relatives being exposed to the public, effectively ruining the surprise if the recipient or a nosy friend catches a glimpse of the purchase in their News Feed.
Facebook promptly became aware of the uproar and issued another press release detailing the changes made to the Beacon system. Users now must essentially opt into utilizing Beacon and have full control over which websites they would like to report usage of and which friends they want to see Beacon stories.
However, the foundation of Facebook’s hard-earned reputation as a better alternative to the News Corporation-owned, bug-riddled, geek’s nightmare MySpace has taken yet another sledgehammer. The recent launch of Applications, glorified profile widgets, was a good idea on paper, but the number of profiles that abuse the more obnoxious and pointless Applications has inevitably risen to a level that rivals the enemy’s vast collection of browser-crashing profiles and background music that you thought you shut off, but obviously didn’t.
The missteps involved in Beacon have brought Facebook closer with MySpace’s other big problem, the fear of not knowing what Rupert Murdoch’s vast media empire is doing with the voluntarily-offered personal information of tens of millions of people. Facebook wants to offer creative advertising solutions — and they were spot-on with their primary inspiration for Beacon, word-of-mouth advertising, because no form of advertising is stronger or cheaper — but their less apathetic users will be chomping at founder Mark Zuckerberg’s ankles for even the slightest slip in the future.