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Facebook Retreats on Online Tracking 95

Nrbelex writes "Facebook is reining in some aspects of a controversial new advertising program, after users became extremely upset and threatened various 'protests' over possible privacy infringement issues. 'Late yesterday the company made an important change, saying that it would not send messages about users' Internet activities without getting explicit approval each time ... Facebook executives say the people who are complaining are a marginal minority. With time, Facebook says, users will accept Beacon, which Facebook views as an extension of the type of book and movie recommendations that members routinely volunteer on their profile pages.'"
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Facebook Retreats on Online Tracking

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  • Good! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cytoman ( 792326 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:46AM (#21533075)
    But too late for me...I already deleted my Facebook profile when they launched this abominable feature.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      You fool! They deleted nothing! muhahahaha!

      Seriously though, in Soviet Russia, Facebook deletes you.
    • Re:Good! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Y-Crate ( 540566 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:00PM (#21533257)

      But too late for me...I already deleted my Facebook profile when they launched this abominable feature.
      You merely deactivated it. It's still there, all the data has been retained. You could go back and reactivate it tomorrow and find yourself staring at the same profile you had before you "deleted" it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ahsile ( 187881 )
        You can request that facebook delete your information, and they will do so. I emailed them after deactivating my account and told them I was dissatisfied with that option. They kindly replied within an hour, and after confirming my identity it was done.
        • It's good that they will do this for you, but even if they wouldn't you could send them a DMCA takedown...
        • And yet I have requested the same thing, *twice* and each time through several venues. I specifically requested it on the account deactivation page form for additional comments, I have emailed privacy@facebook.com and for the first attempt at least, also left requests as Wall posts on Mark Zuckerberg's profile pages. (He had two that I found)
            To date, none of these attempts through any of the communication channels have yielded me so much as an acknowledgment of receipt, let alone any action.
        • Ermm, if they had deleted all your information then how could they verify it was you?, he asked curiously.
      • Re:Good! (Score:4, Informative)

        by goldaryn ( 834427 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:25PM (#21534559) Homepage
        From the T&Cs: "By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content." http://www.facebook.com/terms.php [facebook.com]
        • Ah...I didn't see this post before I replied, but it does seem that facebook does in fact keep archives of your profile.
          Maybe this assumption is wrong, but I don't think Facebook would keep a full version history, but instead probably keep the latest x versions (lets say 5) of your profile. Then perhaps the best way to 'erase' most of your profile is to cycle garbage through your profile before you leave. Just fill your profile with new garbage everyday for a month or two. Hopefully by then facebook has n
          • Are you thinking of a wiki? It's more likely that they backup (to tape or whatever) their servers every few days. They could have hundreds of copies of your profile in their data safe regardless of any changes.
      • Out of curiosity, what would happen if you slowly deleted information from your profile? For example, you removed your interests one day (or filled it up with garbage), then the next day your removed most of your contact info (and/or filled it up with garbage). Finally by the time you leave your account, your profile is either simply your name and network, or your name and network and a bunch of other filled in garbage. The only thing that doesn't work about this method of removing personal information, is
      • This is why I always falsify the information I've given to a social networking site before I attempt to cancel or delete my account. ...the information I haven't falsified already.
      • And I was just able to confirm that a message I sent to everyone in my contact list is still bouncing back and forth between all the people it is addressed to. Funny but sad is that the vast majority of the replies are requests for everyone else to stop replying to it as they are sick of getting what they call "spam" in their inbox. My inbox contained all the replies that had been made since after I deactivated my account and requested that it be deleted. (Using the form field on the deactivation request pa
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by legojenn ( 462946 )
      I came into Facebook by way of multiple invitations. Things kept annoying me about it, especially the crap applications. Once the beacon story broke last week, I just had enough and ran my security levels to the top and removed all my data and photos. I guess I'm one of the marginal minority of annoyed. The only question I have is: If the number of people annoyed were so marginal, why didFacebook react so quickly?

      • Re:Good! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Otter Escaping North ( 945051 ) <otter@escaping@north.gmail@com> on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:16PM (#21534375) Journal

        If the number of people annoyed were so marginal, why didFacebook react so quickly?

        A guess based on what I heard; because the vocal minority scared the partners more than it scared Facebook. The main shopping drive right now is Christmas; making this the absolute worst time to introduce a tool that publishes your shopping habits to your family and friends. Retailers get that, even if thick-headed social networking bosses don't.

        If a couple of retailers get grumpy - or even just one of sufficient size (ie. Amazon), then Facebook would definitely want to tone it down, and try again in the new year.

        This is all about business, kids.

        • To be fair, Facebook has always responded to its users rather well, and rather quickly. When the various Feeds came out, there was an outcry about privacy, and a few other features have set users off during the short history of the site. Therefore, Facebook instituted granular privacy controls and the owner issued a public apology. My continual impression of Facebook is that they get so wrapped up in cool features and wanting to see what they can do with the site that they forget about the users' concerns.
    • Facebook doesn't delete profiles. They only 'deactivate' them. Which is creepy enough for me to ever want to go back to Facebook-land again.
  • New account; I'm miserable at managing all my log/pass combos.
  • Is there really much Slashdot/Facebook overlap? Everyone I know on this forum just hosts their own personal site(s). Facebook seems like more of a newbie technology than would normally be attractive to the average Slashdotter: kind of one step up from "what's your favorite desktop background image?"
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by UnderDark ( 869922 )
      I don't know about anyone else, but I leave a sparse (read as minimal info) Facebook page up simply to act as another way a person can get in touch with me (I have it set to e-mail me if I get a message).
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by wattrlz ( 1162603 )
      It's a good way to keep up with your newb acquaintences and friends. Besides, it cuts down on the amount of facebook invites I get.
    • by ODiV ( 51631 )
      "what's your favorite desktop background image?"

      Except that most of the users I know refer to that image as their "screen saver". ...

      Help me.
      • Except that most of the users I know refer to that image as their "screen saver". ...

        Help me.


        If they also refer to the computer itself as the 'Hard Drive', then it's too late for you.

        Oh wait, they say these things to me too.

        Nooooooo!!!!!11111one
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tehcyder ( 746570 )

      "what's your favorite desktop background image?"
      That Britney upskirt shot, although you do get some odd looks at work...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Host my own site? That would imply I'm like, proactive or something.
    • Is there really much Slashdot/Facebook overlap? Everyone I know on this forum just hosts their own personal site(s). Facebook seems like more of a newbie technology than would normally be attractive to the average Slashdotter: kind of one step up from "what's your favorite desktop background image?"

      I'm on it. As with others in this crowd, though, my presence is minimal. I'm there so friends/relatives from out of town can view the latest videos of the pups. At the time I signed up, I had made a comment that at least Facebook was more pretentious than MySpace. I wouldn't make that joke anymore.

      Funny thing is; the beacon thing was giving me pause - and more from a data-mining point-of-view than that it would share them with my friends. What, I don't want my friends to know where I shop, but I'm

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Billosaur ( 927319 ) *
      Facebook is for the masses. I suspect that most /.ers are tech-savvy enough to have no desire to have anything to do with it. I could be wrong. If I want a presence on the Internet, I'll build my own site, maintain it, control its content, and make damned sure the information isn't being abused to the best of my ability. Call it tin-hat paranoia if you like, but I can't unequivocally trust any web application/service, though I've started to use Gmail and the new on-line service Sandy to a limited extent. Bu
      • by DorkRawk ( 719109 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:47PM (#21535921) Homepage
        It always amuses me when people dismiss social networking sites by saying, "If I want a presence on the internet, I'll use a site that I built myself". Using a personal site/blog to keep in touch with people only works if all your friends read/write blogs and check their friends personal sites regularly.

        To quote one of my roommates, "Blogs? Aren't those something high school kids do?".

        But she checks Facebook several times a day. If you want to stay in touch with people you have to use the medium that the people you want to stay in touch with use. Sure there's a pretty bad signal/noise ratio on all of these social networking sites. Not wanting to use a (non special interest based) social networking platform because too many people use it, seems a little self defeating.

        Also, the OP has obviously not been in college in the past 5 years. They practically give you a Facebook account with your student ID these days.
        • To quote one of my roommates, "Blogs? Aren't those something high school kids do?". But she checks Facebook several times a day.
          Even if she is adapting to accommodate the system used by the most people, this seems to indicate a rather pervasive cluelessness about how the internet actually works.
      • Someone with some mod points please counter this troll rating. There is no reason for it.

        Seems like someone just disagreed with what he said.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I think you highly overestimate the *average* slashdotter.

      There are a lot of very intelligent, highly competent people with a lot of technical knowledge here, certainly. But there are also a lot of completely ignorant technology newbies as well. The worst thing about it is that a lot of people who have a slashdot account think it automatically makes them part of some computing elite, and that alone gives them license to comment on things they have no clue about.

      Seriously take off the blinders sometime and
    • by FleaPlus ( 6935 )
      Is there really much Slashdot/Facebook overlap? Everyone I know on this forum just hosts their own personal site(s). Facebook seems like more of a newbie technology than would normally be attractive to the average Slashdotter: kind of one step up from "what's your favorite desktop background image?"

      I've got a 4-digit slashdot ID (whatever that counts for) and I use Facebook intensively, primarily to keep in touch with my friends from high school, college, and grad school.

      The vast majority of my techie frien
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "would not send messages about users' Internet activities without getting explicit approval each time"

    Invade your privacy? (cancel) or (allow)?

  • Is there a stand alone program with the same features as these online sites? Something with custom privacy settings. A merger of email, chat, and file sharing doesn't seem that far fetched. Wasn't ICQ a lot like this? Its been a long time since I have seen the program.
  • translation... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mosch ( 204 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:02PM (#21533279) Homepage
    Facebook Executives wrote: Facebook executives say the people who are complaining are a marginal minority. With time, Facebook says, users will accept Beacon, which Facebook views as an extension of the type of book and movie recommendations that members routinely volunteer on their profile pages.

    What they meant: "We're turning it off for now, but we're going to slowly and deliberately swing it back to an on by default system."

    As far as the claim that the complainants are a "marginal minority", I think that it's only a "marginal minority" of Facebook users that even knew the system existed, and probably a smaller minority that had any personal experience with it.
  • by frinkacheese ( 790787 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:03PM (#21533293) Journal

    And then they will tell there Amazon partiners and next time you check you're email you'll will get a recommendation about a book all about using the correct grammar for writing Englishings.

    Next thing, you'll get phone calls offering you fasterinternetserviceprovidings ...
  • by Coopjust ( 872796 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:05PM (#21533313)
    "With time, Facebook says, users will accept Beacon, which Facebook views as an extension of the type of book and movie recommendations that members routinely volunteer on their profile pages."

    Translation: We're not sorry, and in a week we think that everyone will have forgotten about the privacy issues, just like the news feed.

    I'm seriously considering closing my Facebook. Free service hemorraging privacy by the day = Mistake. Facebook is definitely past its prime.

    Another poster (when the Beacon article was on Slashdot previously) said that the facebook belief was that "it's better to ask forgiveness than permission". Definitely the case here...
    • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

      I'm seriously considering closing my Facebook. Free service hemorraging privacy by the day = Mistake. Facebook is definitely past its prime.

      In order to delete your account, you need to DELETE every detail on your account, every mini feed, every friend, every picture, everything. Then you can e-mail facebook and request your account to be deleted. They will not delete your account until you have deleted everything in it.

      Another poster (when the Beacon article was on Slashdot previously) said that the faceboo

    • by novakyu ( 636495 )
      I thought that once, too, a long time ago---when they started opening up the site to "wider audiences", i.e. high schools rather than just post-secondary institutions. I cut off all Facebook contacts and more or less closed the account. Thinking back, that was a mistake.

      Don't think like a user---think like Facebook does. In particular, think of each of your "friend" as an audience for your anti-Facebook agenda. Rather than closeting yourself off, use their tools against them. So, Facebook has an intrusive,
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:08PM (#21533357)
    Facebook requires the good graces of its users to make money by selling the attention span of those users to advertisers. So what does Facebook do? Simple, piss off those very users it needs to make money.

    Facebook says it is a vocal minority who are complaining. Perhaps it is the same minority who make up a majority of the page hits that the advertisers pay for?

    Facebook is no smarter than the record companies. You do not anger the constituents of your revenue stream.

    • by JonC88 ( 1176057 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:36PM (#21533715)

      Facebook requires the good graces of its users to make money by selling the attention span of those users to advertisers. So what does Facebook do? Simple, piss off those very users it needs to make money.

      Facebook, unfortunately, appears to have been extremely calculated and crafty in its decisions to roll out new features, each time building upon the level of addiction that its existing users have already reached and the larger social "necessity" of being on Facebook, especially among college and high school kids.

      By the time they allowed high school students (and later anyone) to join, Facebook was already fairly established with students, who already had enough "invested" in their accounts and knew that their real friends were in the same situation. The introduction of news feed may have angered those with concerns about privacy, but certainly not enough to make a significant number of users angry enough to leave. For those that did stay, News Feed reinforces the necessity of being on Facebook, because once you do have access to that kind of information about your friends, it's hard to turn it down.

      This Beacon situation feels very much like News Feed, except that the impact on solidifying Facebook "addiction" will be less marked. Facebook and its features just become too important to most users (in college, not having an account can get you some very strange looks), and Zuckerberg et al. will continue to use that to their advantage in building their revenue stream.

    • Speaking of recording industry (and related to the facebook invasion of privacy), facebook now offers band web pages (sim. to myspace). Little nicer layout than myspace. You can have a discography page with song listings etc... You can upload as many songs as you chose to...

      I tried creating the page. Two 'features' really popped out at me. First, they have the promotion tool. It's a paid (per click or per view) banner thingy that once AGAIN USES OTHER PEOPLE'S PROFILE NAMES AND PICTURES to promote the ba
    • I deleted my friends and groups, joined a boycott unethical companies group, and changed my face photo to a Boycott unethical companies = boycott Microsoft = boycott Facebook. [imageshack.us] image. Feel free to use that image.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Our small startup company makes a successful online scientific app and management got it in their heads after talking to some of our investors that we need to drop everything and spend the next three months cramming "socialization" features into it. We have no time for this (we need to make performance and scalability improvements). I would prefer not to leave the job with its short commute, good pay, and free lunches. But everyone is drinking the Kool Aid, and nobody seems to realize that this fad is almos
    • I suggest you get drunk, then photograph yourself photocopying your penis, and post the photos to Facebook. Then photograph yourself posting the photos to Facebook, and post those photos to Myspace. Then use blogger to write a blog about you what you did. Then write a slashdot journal about your blog. Then link to your slashdot journal in an random slashdot comment. Then post a link to your slashdot comment on Digg.
  • Kudos to Facebook (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rueger ( 210566 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:16PM (#21533449) Homepage
    Well, I'll give Facebook points for once again responding fairly quickly and positively to complaints from their user base. In an age when most corporations treat customers as an irritation rather than a valued client this seems like a good thing.

    Hopefully Facebook's example will be noticed by other companies and sites, who will learn to back down when they have done something stupid or unpopular.

    Facebook's exec is right though - the vast majority of users just don't care, and likely quite a few of them would have liked having their name and picture popping up all over the place. Facebook could have gone ahead with Beacon quite successfully, but dropped it nonetheless.

    Let's give credit where credit is due.
  • One of the issues (Score:5, Informative)

    by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:19PM (#21533483) Journal
    As described in The Washington Post [washingtonpost.com]:

    Sean Lane's purchase was supposed to be a surprise for his wife. Then it appeared as a news headline -- "Sean Lane bought 14k White Gold 1/5 ct Diamond Eternity Flower Ring from overstock.com" -- last week on the social networking Web site Facebook.

    Without Lane's knowledge, the headline was visible to everyone in his online network, including 500 classmates from Columbia University and 220 other friends, co-workers and acquaintances.

    And his wife.



    Further down, the reason Facebook changed the policy:

    Lane complained to Overstock. Company spokesman Judd Bagley said this week that on Nov. 21, Overstock abandoned its Beacon feature until Facebook changes its practice so that users must volunteer if they want to participate.


    Hard to be an ad-supported site if the advertisers won't advertise...

  • I assume ring in the story was bought by a Facebook ad, ergo don't buy stuff via the ad on Facebook. This was in the Wash Post today so could get widespread coverage. Especially young people can be quite fickle and could turn away from Facebook. All it can take is one slip up to lose your reputation, just another reminder of this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bieeanda ( 961632 )
      No, that's the problem. The Beacon system lets retailers interact with your Facebook cookies. They get your Facebook ID, insert what you've bought into a new cookie, and Beacon happily makes your purchase into an ad. Worse, the opt-out functionality is on a case-by-case basis, and you have to opt out after the fact because there's no way to turn it off before-hand (beyond proxying Beacon out).

      This isn't a matter of simply not clicking on banner ads or affiliate links. This is collaboration to track your

  • BBC News had an article about this today. It seems that informaton about your purchases, or product browsing history is sent to your friends and businesses. At this time of year, this could spoil one or two surprise Christmas presents.
  • I found this site: http://www.bspcn.com/2007/11/09/block-facebook-beacon/ [bspcn.com] with instructions on how to block beacon with firefox. I'm not sure how effective it is.
  • misspent energy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:55PM (#21534007)
    One day -- maybe -- Facebook users will get together and protest something really important. So much energy, so much potential...
    • by gilboad ( 986599 )
      I very much doubt it.

      Virtual networks such as Facebook demonstrate a major change in western society:
      You have no idea who's your next door neighbor (... or if he's alive or dead) but you've got "virtual" friends living on the other side of the globe.

      One can only speculate why we, as a society choose to create a "virtual" society instead of actual one - but I can safely speculate that such a society will be less inclined to go on a 1,000,000 head march in the middle of winter to change anything they believe
  • I wasn't one of users that protested feeds. In fact, I *like* feeds. They let me keep up with my friends.

    But this new advertising scheme has basically killed them. 3/4 of the slots in my friends feed is now taken up with "So and so has added "Some Movie" to their Blockbuster Online queue" (oh, and the extra ads they inject anyways).

    Facebook's search for revenue seems to have gone awry...
  • Does this mean I have to stop buying porn over the internet?
  • As mentioned here: http://securitymusings.com/article/202/facebook-ruining-christmas [securitymusings.com]:

    Not only did Facebook show an ability to ruin the surprise of Christmas presents, it also begs greater questions about purchasing privacy and the first amendment. Rather than the NSA subpoenaing amazon.com to find out what books you like to read, perhaps they could just put up a flash web ad that reads your amazon cookies and finds out your latest "looked at" items?

    Be careful out there, kids!
  • So, it's back to the good ol' fashioned methods of cyberstalking, rather than being simply handed all the information? *sigh* Back to LiveJournal for the Facebook freaky-followers...
  • by mc moss ( 1163007 )
    I have a facebook account and I'm not worried at all. Why? Because I have no friends.
  • from TFA:

    "Isn't this community getting a little hypocritical?" said Chad Stoller, director of emerging platforms at Organic, a digital advertising agency. "Now, all of a sudden, they don't want to share something?"

    See, this guy is missing the whole point. Of course people want to share stuff. But they want to share it on what they perceive to be their terms, not on some company's terms!

    Anyways, this change to Beacon is good news, even tho the info is still sent to Facebook's marketing database, and there is

  • by Se7enLC ( 714730 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:14PM (#21536369) Homepage Journal
    When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site.

    By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

    You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.


    Forget when they decide to post about your activities online - their terms and conditions clearly state that if they want to, they can take that photo that you posted of you under a beer funnel at a frat party and sell it to anybody they want. You might end up in a TV commercial and receive no notice, compensation, or even acknowledgment. If you write something interesting in a note, they can publish it and collect profits from it. Scary.
    • Forget when they decide to post about your activities online - their terms and conditions clearly state that if they want to, they can take that photo that you posted of you under a beer funnel at a frat party and sell it to anybody they want. You might end up in a TV commercial and receive no notice, compensation, or even acknowledgment. If you write something interesting in a note, they can publish it and collect profits from it. Scary.

      The text of the terms is almost exclusively framed in terms of copyri

      • but there may still be other laws that restrict the use of the content.

        Such as?

        And also, permission to use your likeness for promotional purposes might not be possible to establish through a clickable ToS; it boils down to the question whether you are receiving valuable consideration in exchange for permitting use of your likeness.

        But more likely, permission can be established through a clickable ToS. Not sure if that has been tested in court, but if it were, I'd bet on the court siding with Facebook's ToS, rather than the user, unless the user is a minor. And what does valuable consideration have to do with anything? People give away the right to publish or broadcast their image for nothing, every single day.

  • ...it's that they collect it in the first place.

    Which they will continue to do, even if you "opt out" of the feature. No company should be getting updates telling them where else on the web I go.

    I've already blocked *facebook.com/beacon/* in my browsers, but I shouldn't have to, in order to prevent merchants from keeping Facebook informed as to my activities. Any merchant that implements this in any other way than an opt-in for sending the data to Facebook in the first place will not be getting my bu

    • This works right now because sites are using your browser and the information your browser knows to relay the information back to facebook.

      However, it is conceivable, and quite possible for sites to do the sending to facebook from the back-end (using a cgi script, for example), effectively removing you from the loop. All this would require is reading your cookie once and associating your username on said site with your facebook account. And such informaton could be sent without facebook displaying it. You w
  • Isn't Facebook a vehicle FOR sharing personal information?

    I'm not trying to be facetious here. Think about it. You put your picture, maybe your general location, your name and whatever, on the website. A little time spent with various search engines can usually provide even more personal information derived from the information posted to Facebook.

    If I were the the guy running facebook, my response to anyone that protested the site would be to simply delete any and ALL information regarding that person.

    I can
  • I bet you the real story is that they eventually figured out that what they were doing is quite likely illegal, but don't wish to admit so.

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