Facebook Modifies “Beacon” To Mollify Privacy Critics

As we wrote yesterday, Facebook faced a furor from critics who argued its Beacon program went too far in tracking its users’ actions on non-Facebook sites and broadcasting those back through Facebook newsfeeds. As of last night the company had decided to make changes in the advertising program to appease critics who have brought much unwelcome negative publicity to the social network. Here’s the New York Times’ coverage. The biggest change appears to be that the program will now require an “opt-in” rather than an “opt-out” by users. The actions will still be tracked and captured, but they will no longer be broadcast without users’ explicit consent.

Here’s how Facebook describes the changes it’s making in the program:

- Stories about actions users take on external websites will continue to be presented to users at the top of their News Feed the next time they return to Facebook. These stories will now always be expanded on their home page so they can see and read them clearly.

- Users must click on “OK” in a new initial notification on their Facebook home page before the first Beacon story is published to their friends from each participating site. We recognize that users need to clearly understand Beacon before they first have a story published, and we will continue to refine this approach to give users choice.

- If a user does nothing with the initial notification on Facebook, it will hide after some duration without a story being published. When a user takes a future action on a Beacon site, it will reappear and display all the potential stories along with the opportunity to click “OK” to publish or click “remove” to not publish.

- Users will have clear options in ongoing notifications to either delete or publish. No stories will be published if users navigate away from their home page. If they delay in making this decision, the notification will hide and they can make a decision at a later time.

- Clicking the “Help” link next to the story will take users to a full tutorial that explains exactly how Beacon works, with screenshots showing each step in the process.

These changes are in addition to those made earlier to improve the notifications on partner sites as follows:

- Users were sometimes moving away from a page before a notification could be fully displayed. We changed the process so that we confirm the full display of the notification before any information can be sent back to a user’s Facebook account.

- The notification appears more rapidly and is more clearly displayed.

There has been misinformation in the market about some key aspects of how Beacon works:

- Participation in Beacon is free for all partner sites.

- Beacon only allows for the sharing of specific actions on the specific sites participating in Beacon.

- Beacon only has the potential to display actions to a selection of a user’s friends through News Feed and on a user’s Mini-Feed.

- Facebook is not sharing user information with participating sites and never sells user information.

As with all its products, Facebook will continue to iterate quickly and listen to feedback from its users.

For those interested, there’s much more coverage and discussion on Techmeme.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Facebook | Legal: Privacy | Search Ads: Behavioral Targeting

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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