Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

Facebook, Beacon and Privacy

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the new social advertising features on Facebook, one of which, of course, is Beacon.  For the uninitiated, Beacon gives advertisers a few lines of code to put into their site that allows that site to publish the actions of its userbase to their respective Facebook pages.  For instance, you add “Gigli” to your Netflix queue or Zip List, and through internet magic, all of your friends can be informed about that action, assuming the companies have added these few lines of text.

Yeah, a little big-brotherish, but is it a huge violation of privacy?  I probably don’t want anyone to know that I’m renting a Ben Affleck movie, but not a big deal, right?

Now replace “movie” with “engagement ring,” and you have this comment from a guy named Will on Charlene Li’s blog:

I purchased a diamond engagement ring set from overstock in preparation for a New Year’s surprise for my girlfriend. Please note that this was something meant to be very special, and also very private at this point (for obvious reasons). Within hours, I received a shocking call from one of my best friends of surprise and “congratulations” for getting engaged.(!!!)Imagine my horror when I learned that overstock had published the details of my purchase (including a link to the item and its price) on my public facebook newsfeed, as well as notifications to all of my friends. ALL OF MY FRIENDS, including my girlfriend, and all of her friends, etc…


Ouch. This is obviously something that Facebook didn’t think through before announcing it, and something that Overstock adopted without a strategy or considering the repercussions.  How many kids are going to find out what their parents bought them for Christmas because it shows up on their Facebook page?

This is the tip of the crisis iceberg for both Facebook and Overstock.  If I were Facebook, I would alter the API to ensure that it was impossible for sites to transmit information without the consent of the person whose personal details were about to be broadcast to the world.  If I were overstock, I would either implement this change directly, or completely discontinue use of the service pending Facebook’s changes to the script.  The benefits of letting people’s friends know that you bought a vase on the internet is far outweighed by the vocal anger of their most plugged-in users about being betrayed by both the retailer and their social network.

The problem with a parasitic relationship is that if the parasite kills the host, there’s no more food.  Like Hugh says, “The minute the Facebooks of the world forget they are replaceable, is the minute people like me move in for The Kill.”

[via: PR Squared]


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  1. […] was of course the story about the man whose girlfriend found out about the engagement ring he had bought her as a surprise. And there have been a rash of stories, articles, TV programmes and others about Facebook’s plans […]