When it comes to user data the line between right and wrong is pretty wide and fuzzy. After all, we’re often getting something for nothing, so it should be expected that we’ll have to pay the piper with a little demographic data from time to time.
But Facebook’s new “Beacon” technology is so insanely egregious it’s jaw dropping. Through some kind of dark (java based) alchemy, your transactions on the Beacon partner sites are automatically reported back to your Facebook account, and posted for all your friends to see.
This isn’t an “opt-in” thing either. If you decide that you’d rather not tell the world what games you’re playing, movies you’re renting, or books you’re buying, then you had better be quick on the trigger, because you have only a few seconds after the pop-up appears before your virtual ass is exposed to the world. The first time it jumped up letting me know what was happening I couldn’t even parse what was trying to say before it was gone. The second time I fought through my disbelief (It’s what now?) and began to figure it out. But I didn’t have a chance to really react before it closed again. Honestly it wasn’t until I read about it somewhere else that I realized that how thoroughly I’d been taken advantage of.
If I had been able to react I would have discovered that I can only opt-out on a per-site basis at best, and only from inside the pop-up itself. There is currently no way to go to my Facebook account and globally tell Beacon to go screw itself. To do that I needed to install an add-on into my browser that blocks the application entirely. Which is what I did.
Today moveon.org entered the fray. They’ve created a privacy petition that’s telling Facebook that they need to stuff the genie back into the bottle.
Personally I can’t understand how they thought they were going to get away with this. It’s one thing when it’s inside of web page, or I make a decision to allow myself to be exploited. It’s another to wake up one morning and discover that the wall between entirely different web applications has breached and nobody bothered to ask for your consent.
Facebook can play innocent and coy, but my transaction information is still mine. The thousands of tiny little scraps of our lives have meaning when they’re gathered together, and very few of us are still so innocent that we don’t recognize that. It’s not just rude to take it without asking. It’s wrong.