UPDATE [2006-12-03 16:05]: Here’s another article, also from PC World, which talks about how nefarious Facebook’s tracking really is. Not even deleting cookies will prevent it from happening.
[my original post]
I just came across an alarming article about Facebook’s Beacon which states that apparently Facebook is receiving data on users activities outside of Facebook.
As if Beacon hasn’t generated enough controversy already, Facebook now admits that it tracks logged-off users through partner sites which send data about users back to Facebook. Their most recent admission contradicts earlier statements which said that Facebook does not track users.
Initially I was of the opinion that Beacon was just the next logical (albeit frightening) step in the whole social network advertising model. It stands to reason that as new adopters (read:young people) sign up for social networks, they will simply be accustomed to fewer and fewer privacy protections. As we slide down the slippery slope of eroding online privacy, things like Beacon will eventually cease to outrage people and will simply become an accepted norm.
I wonder if Beacon would have met with such strong opposition from users if Facebook had cut people in on the revenue. It’s rather alarming to have your picture appear next to your most recent purchase from Fandango or Blockbuster. But what if you got a cut of each purchase that was made thanks to a clickthrough on that ad? Would people still have such a big problem with it then?
And when you really look at who’s protesting, it’s still only a tiny fraction of users. The last time I checked, MoveOn.org’s online petition against Facebook’s privacy violations only had about 50,000 users, which is less than 0.1% of all Facebook users (as of November 2007).
Nevertheless, this latest revelation about the reach of Beacon outside of Facebook’s website and its tracking of logged-out users is very disturbing. Facebook’s contradiction of itself is even more so. I’m waiting eagerly to hear what they have to say for themselves.