With what first started out as one of those momentous events in the world of advertising – or at least that is what Zuckerman wanted us to all believe, Beacon was let loose to a world beyond the walled garden of Facebook. The so-called brilliant idea being that any purchases of goods you made outside of Facebook and involved Beacon partners would suddenly find itself as part of you in-Facebook news feed. So besides the fact that all your purchases were now a part of the Facebook demographics, so were your actions outside of the Facebook wall.
As Beacon first hit there was no options available for the user to opt-in or to opt-out of this tracking system or to not have your purchases show up on your news feed within Facebook. In other words you actions in what should have been a private matter between you and the company you were buying from were suddenly being plastered on a giant billboard for everyone to read.
In the furor that has surrounded this use of Beacon the term of what opt-in means is beginning to sound suspiciously like the famous Clinton argument of “.. it depends of what your definition of is – is…”. Where on one hand we have Zuckerman’s suggestion that the moment you sign up for Facebook you have opted in to the Beacon service and that you have to effectively indicate in some way or another that you don’t want you purchase details broadcasted for everyone to see.
However the whole discussion over opt-in or opt-out may be entirely moot given some recent information that has come to light via a post on webomatica by Jason
What the article implies is that if you land on an affiliate site after logging into Facebook, and you previously used the “remember me” option on Facebook – you’ll receive a new Facebook cookie from the affiliate site. You should be prompted to “opt out” on the new site, but even if you do – the data is sent regardless.
So regardless of whether Facebook says it is or it isn’t collecting user data on a continuous basis even if they have opted out the fact is that at some point everything you do both inside the Facebook walled garden and now outside of it is being collected. It would seem that the only thing that selecting to opt-in does is make public the data Facebook is already collecting. As Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests accurately phrases it:
Above and beyond the fact that opting out of “publishing the information to newsfeed” gives the impression that Facebook won’t actually be storing the information of the transaction (not just literally preventing the information being published), or even beyond the technical issue of it being sent to Facebook when you’re not even logged in, its the issue of behavioural profiling on a scale that would make Orson Wells have a heart attack. And yes, I’m quite aware he’s dead.
Whether or not the current crop of advertisers that have signed on to the Beacon system of consumer profiling continue to do so publicly once the furor dies down remains to be seen; but you can be damn sure that somewhere along the way that data will still make it’s way to anyone willing to pay the price for all that data rich information.
The one other aspect of all this white noise that is surrounding Beacon is the fact of what happens when some-one other than advertisers want a piece of the pie. After all it is nothing now for police agencies to subpoena Google and the such for any information related to a specific IP and get it. With Facebook though we have a name attached to all that information and do you really think that Facebook has a single constitutional leg to stand on when they get the police knocking on their door. Your information – all of it – would be willingly handed over and you have no recourse because the moment you click on the Submit button any expectation of privacy is gone.
While much attention is being centered around this whole shell game of the Beacon service there is a much larger picture to consider – your right to privacy and freedom from persecution which you just gave away to Facebook with a click of a button.