Falling Out of Facebook and Back Again

Facebook has backed off with Beacon which I am glad to hear, but it doesn't seem to be quite that simple. When the story first broke, CNN reported MoveOn's protest of Beacon - the story then got more interesting for me.. providing food for thought as I attend IIW this week.

IIW2007 Registration banner

MoveOn's Facebook Group 'Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!' gained a membership of over 60,000 and in response, Facebook modified Beacon's policy to not broadcast users' actions without their explicit consent. Victory for the people.

As a follow up, Silicon Valley Insider reported in it's article NYT: Facebook's Zuckerberg Misled Us; Coke: Ditto of how despite assurances to the contrary, Beacon was implemented as an Opt Out program. (Maybe Coke didn't really opt out though, says Rodney Rumford in his posting Coke Not Bailing on Facebook Beacon).

Further oddities were reported on Infoworld: Beacon's reach extends to non-Facebook Users - specifically if Facebook has a relationship with a site, then its users behaviors will be tracked by Beacon whether the user is a Facebook member or not.

Online Democracy

There are a number of Facebook groups that you can join to petition for a service more respectful of your privacy. You will need to be logged into Facebook for these links: Petition to change the Facebook Terms of Use (8.500 members), Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!(67,900 members) and Constitutional Facebook (2000+ members). If you are not a Facebook user, there are two websites: Constitutional Facebook and Facebook must respect privacy

The great thing about this is that Facebook has democracy baked in - where else can a 60,000 person online protest march be organized so fast? So I ( like Robert Scoble) remain a Facebook fan. Josh Quittner at Techland makes good comment regarding the poor job of Facebook's PR in his article RIP Facebook.

So What Happened?

Did Facebook originally set out to mess with my data and use it to violate my privacy.I don't believe so, rather that Facebook was created because it needed to be created - to connect students in a medium that was begging to be used in this way. The data violations are probably a consequence of Facebook now being under pressure from investors to make money and it is now trying to work out how to monetize that data and validate the recent valuations. It is interesting that in it's article 15 reasons Facebook may be worth $15bn, the BBC only seems to suggest an advertising based revenue model for Facebook - which implies using the data they have about us to produce better targeting and and so on...

Mark Zukerberg commented very openly on the Beacon situation in a Facebook posting where he explains what they were trying to do, admits to making some mistakes and shows a willingness to listen and respond to Facebook's users.

Fred Stutzman's post, Facebook's New World recounted a previous Facebook user outcry over Newsfeed and goes on to point out that the difference this time was the media coverage that Facebook now has.

Personal Terms of Service

Referring back to my previous post (Is Information really only Perfectly Targeted Advertising?) where I commented on being prepared to pay for 'free' online services by giving organizations access to my data, as a user who is desparately concerned about my privacy and security of my personal data - what would I be comfortable with Facebook doing that would still make them money? I have just left a session on VRM at the Internet Identity Workshop in Mountain View where we had a discussion on publishing personal data streams and personal RFPs, this got me thinking about a personal terms of service that I would issue to Facebook:

  1. My data is my property and I will allow Facebook to be a custodian of that data
  2. Facebook will maintain a store of my data and allow me to create/Read/Update/Delete that information when I want
  3. Facebook will help me populate my data store with data that is created in facebook or in other places - if I so choose
  4. Facebook will help me to share my data with my friends - how and when I want
  5. Facebook will share my data with commercial and non-commercial organizations - of my choosing and with the data that I want to share
  6. Facebook will help me find the things that I am looking for and where appropriate connecting me with commercial and non-commercial organizations with my explicit permission
  7. Facebook will ensure that those connections are made under the terms that I set - that will include specifying how those organizations can contact me

This model presents plenty of revenue opportunities for Facebook and I think falls within the SocialWeb Bills of Rights. If Facebook really wanted, they could work out how to help me monetize my data and take a brokerage commission on that - there are a number of models where this is made possible too.

Ending on a lighter note, Chris Carfi posted this video, Facebook Beacon Privacy Improvements: A 90 Second Overview which does explain the problem better than CNN could do.


  1. Egg on Their Facebook: Users Force Reversal of Ad Approach by Abbey Klassen in Advertising Age (December 03, 2007)
  2. Beacon's reach extends to non-Facebook Users at Infoworld (December 03, 2007)
  3. NYT: Facebook's Zuckerberg Misled Us; Coke: Ditto at Silicon Alley Insider (December 01, 2007)
  4. Is Facebook Starting to Fade by Shel Israel at Global Neighborhoods (December 01, 2007).
  5. What’s in Facebook Stays in Facebook? at Exigency in Space (September 2007)
  6. Facebook Got Its $15 Billion Valuation — Now What? by Julie Sloane at Wired Magazine (October 17, 2007)
  7. 15 reasons Facebook may be worth $15bn from the BBC.co.uk (October 25, 2007)
  8. Is Information really only Perfectly Targeted Advertising? on this blog
  9. A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web published on Open Social Web (September 05, 2007)
  10. Thoughts of Selling Personal Data on this blog
  11. Project VRM Homepage
  12. RIP Facebook by Josh Quittner at Techland (December 04, 2007)
  13. Facebook Beacon Privacy Improvements: A 90 Second Overview on SocialCustomer.
  14. Facebook's New Worldby Fred Stutzman (December 05, 2007)
  15. The Evolution of Facebook's Beacon by By Louise Story at NYT (Nov 29, 2007)