Facebook Beacon

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Beacon was a part of Facebook's advertisement system that sent data from external websites to Facebook, for the purpose of allowing targeted advertisements and allowing users to share their activities with their friends. Certain activities on partner sites were published to a user's News Feed. Beacon was launched on November 6, 2007 with 44 partner websites.[1] The controversial service, which became the target of a class action lawsuit, was shut down in September 2009. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said on the Facebook Blog in November 2011 that Beacon was a "mistake".[2]

Privacy concerns[edit]

Beacon created considerable controversy soon after it was launched, due to privacy concerns. On November 20, 2007, civic action group MoveOn.org created a Facebook group and online petition demanding that Facebook not publish their activity from other websites without explicit permission from the user. In fewer than ten days, this group gained 50,000 members.[3] After the class action Lawsuit, Lane v. Facebook, Inc., Beacon was changed to require that any actions transmitted to the website would have to be approved by the Facebook user before being published.[4] On November 29, 2007, Stefan Berteau, a security researcher for Computer Associates, published a note on his tests of the Beacon system, and found that data was still being collected and sent to Facebook despite users' opt-outs and not being logged into Facebook at the time.[5][6] This revelation was in direct contradiction to the statements made by Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook's vice president of marketing and operations, in an interview with The New York Times published the same day:

Q. If I buy tickets on Fandango, and decline to publish the purchase to my friends on Facebook, does Facebook still receive the information about my purchase?
A. "Absolutely not. One of the things we are still trying to do is dispel a lot of misinformation that is being propagated unnecessarily."[7]

On November 30, 2007, Louise Story of The New York Times blogged that not only had she received the impression that Beacon would be an explicit opt-in program, but that Coca-Cola had also had a similar impression, and as a result, had chosen to withdraw their participation in Beacon.[8]

On December 5, 2007, Facebook announced that it would allow people to opt out of Beacon.[9] Founder Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the controversy.

This has been the philosophy behind our recent changes. Last week we changed Beacon to be an opt-in system, and today we're releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here.[10] If you select that you don't want to share some Beacon actions or if you turn off Beacon, then Facebook won't store those actions even when partners send them to Facebook.

On August 12, 2008, a class action lawsuit was filed against Facebook, Blockbuster Inc., Overstock.com, Fandango, Hotwire.com, GameFly, Zappos.com, and any additional "John Doe" corporations that activated Facebook Beacon when they released their common member's personal information to their Facebook user friends without their consent through the Facebook Beacon program. The lawsuit alleges the release of the information was a violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act, Electronic Communication Privacy Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and the California Computer Crime Law.[11][12]

On September 21, 2009, Facebook announced that it would shut down the service.[13][14]

On October 23, 2009, a class action notice was sent to Facebook users who may have used Beacon.[15] The proposed settlement would require Facebook to pay $9.5 million into a settlement fund. The named plaintiffs (approximately 20) would be awarded a total of $41,000, and the plaintiff's lawyers would receive millions from the settlement fund.

Technology[edit]

Facebook Beacon worked through the use of a 1x1 GIF web bug on the third-party site and Facebook cookies.[16] Clearing Facebook cookies from the browser after explicitly logging off from Facebook prevented the third-party site from knowing a user's Facebook identity.

Partner websites[edit]

Beacon partner websites included:[17]

Lawsuit and settlement[edit]

As part of a class action settlement, Facebook terminated Beacon. Facebook was also required by a court order to notify its users of the settlement. Facebook set up a $6 million[18] fund to establish an independent non-profit foundation that will identify and fund projects and initiatives that promote the cause of online privacy, safety, and security. Facebook also set up a website about the lawsuit. Under the contingency fee arrangement with the plaintiffs, the law firms that filed the case would get a fee, likely to be $3–$4 million, but the average Facebook user would receive no monetary award. Facebook notified its users about the court order.

Facebook received intense criticism because of Beacon. The case was ended by a permanent termination of the system and an establishment of a Privacy Foundation. Before Beacon got shut down, 19 people against Beacon organized a class action lawsuit. Settling the case, Facebook finally paid $9.5 million in total to resolve the privacy concerns around its users. It established a non-profit foundation called Digital Trust Foundation with $6.5 million, aiming to "fund and sponsor programs designed to educate users, regulators and enterprises regarding critical issues relating to protection of identity and personal information online".[19] Around $3 million was distributed to the original plaintiffs and attorneys. One of the class action organizers made an objection to the Supreme Court, arguing that members from the class action received little money from the settlement as a result of donating to a newly founded charity. The person also raised the issue that the settlement was unfair because Facebook still controlled the foundation since an employee from Facebook was in charge of it. In response to the challenge of the settlement, Facebook explained that direct payment would not be a wise decision comparing to setting up a foundation. Each potential plaintiff would only share a tiny amount of money as it being divided by a huge number of the class action members. Thus, the money used in founding a relevant non-profit organization to educate people about privacy issues seemed to be a better-off deal serving the same interests.[20]

Significance[edit]

Beacon, as “a recommendation from a trusted friend”[21] referred by Mark Zuckerberg, raised ongoing concerns regarding user privacy on social media sites and outraged privacy advocates. Beacon hurt Facebook’s reputation by violating its Software Engineering tenets and disrespecting the privacy rights of its users.[22] Since the failure of launching Beacon, Facebook has been mired in controversy in terms of privacy issues. The Beacon stories allowed Internet surfers to believe that Facebook and other profit-oriented social networking sites are “large Internet-based surveillance machines”.[23]

However, Facebook is not entirely to blame. People believe that those partner sites using Beacon to collect user data to sell their products should also be held responsible. Social networking sites and third party advertisers obviously have common interests in terms of profit making. Platforms like Facebook intend to provide opportunities for those marketers and advertisers to extract data from their user population. In this sense, both the platforms themselves and their affiliated companies could benefit from the process.[24]

In general, Beacon was viewed as a mistake because it appeared to be too explicit about the intentions inscribed in its protocol.[25] By learning from its unsuccessful experience, Facebook has been seeking other ways to monetize their user database through social advertising. Unlike Beacon, the process of commercialization tends to happen in the back-end system thus becoming invisible to the users.[26] In this way, a lot of resistance from the user population could be largely removed. To be more specific, some argue that Facebook Beacon had paved way for its subsequent service, Facebook connect, both adopting the idea of utilizing third-party data.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Leading Websites Offer Facebook Beacon for Social Distribution". Facebook Press Room. 2007-11-06. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  2. ^ Zuckerberg, Mark. "Our Commitment to the Facebook Community". Retrieved 29 November 2011. 
  3. ^ "Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy! (Facebook group)". Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  4. ^ Farber, Dan (2007-11-25). "Facebook Beacon update: No activities published without users proactively consenting". ZDNet. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  5. ^ Perez, Juan Carlos (2007-12-01). "Facebook's Beacon More Intrusive Than Previously Thought". PCWorld. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  6. ^ Berteau, Stefan (2007-11-27). "Facebook's Misrepresentation of Beacon's Threat to Privacy: Tracking users who opt out or are not logged in.". Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  7. ^ Stone, Brad (2007-11-29). "Facebook Executive Discusses Beacon Brouhaha". Bits (blog) (New York Times). Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  8. ^ Story, Louise (2007-11-30). "Coke Is Holding Off on Sipping Facebook’s Beacon". Bits (blog) (New York Times). Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  9. ^ Zuckerberg, Mark (2007-12-05). "Thoughts on Beacon". Facebook Blog. Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  10. ^ privacy control
  11. ^ Vijayan, Jaikumar (2008-04-18). "Blockbuster sued over Facebook Beacon information sharing". Computerworld. Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  12. ^ Gohring, Nancy (2008-08-13). "Facebook faces class-action suit over Beacon". networkworld. Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  13. ^ Metz, Cade (2009-09-23). "Facebook turns out light on Beacon". The Register. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  14. ^ Albanesius, Chloe (2009-09-22). "Facebook Partners With Nielsen, Ditches Beacon". PCmag.com. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  15. ^ "Class Notice". Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  16. ^ "Privacy Policy - Third Party Advertising". Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  17. ^ Dickman, Matt. "Inside//Out: Facebook Beacon". Techono+Marketer. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  18. ^ http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebook_settlement_gets_judges_ok.php
  19. ^ Pete Williams; Helen Popkin. "Supreme Court won't review Facebook's notorious 'Beacon' case". NBC News. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  20. ^ Kendall, Brent. "Facebook's Settlement on 'Beacon' Service Survives Challenge". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  21. ^ Louise Story; Brad Stone. "Facebook Retreats on Online Tracking". New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  22. ^ Blizard, Katherine. "Facebook, Beacon and Your Privacy". True-reality.net/. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  23. ^ Fuchs, Christian (Mar 1, 2011). Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies. Oxford: Taylor & Francis. p. 1. ISBN 1136825312. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  24. ^ Victoria Bolotaeva; Teuta Cata (2011). "Marketing Opportunities with Social Networks". Journal of Internet Social Networking and Virtual Communities 2011: 5. doi:10.5171/2011.409860. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  25. ^ Dijck, Jos ̌van (2013). The culture of connectivity : a critical history of social media. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 48. ISBN 0199970785. 
  26. ^ Ganaele Langlois; Fenwick McKelvey; Greg Elmer; Kenneth Werbin (2009). "FCJ-095 Mapping Commercial Web 2.0 Worlds: Towards a New Critical Ontogenesis". The Fibreculture Journal (14). ISSN 1449-1443. 
  27. ^ Catone, Josh. "Facebook Connect is Beacon Done Right". Sitepoint. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 

External links[edit]