“What is it?” she said. She’s given me a hard time about being hooked on my new toy, but her curiosity got the better of her.
“Oh yeah?” she said, being a pretty adamant Facebooker who’s a little jilted by the constant restructuring. “Are they going to change things back to the way they were before? That was so much more convenient.”
“No — it looks like they’re going to share your personal data with third parties. Unless you opt out.”
She drove on in silence, but apprehension glowed across her face.
Users have been invited to share their opinions in the comments section of the blog page and, no surprise, many of the nearly 1,500 comments are not positive. However, the 2,172 users have apparently given it the like — whether that’s a like in terms of Facebook’s forthrightness or a thumbs up to the changes is not clear.
Launched in 2007, Beacon was a debacle, with Facebook killing the program within two years and eventually paying $9.5 million in a class action. Though it may be Beacon in reverse, it’s hard not to see a similar fate awaiting this latest maneuver.
In an e-mail to ReadWriteWeb, Barry Schnitt, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications and Public Policy at Facebook wrote, “The right way to think about this is not like a new experience but as making the [Facebook] Connect experience even better and more seamless…. We think there are some instances where people would benefit from this experience as soon as they arrive on a small number of trusted websites that we pre-approve.”
There’s something that reeks of “Big Brother knows best” in those statements.
It doesn’t help Facebook’s cause that there have been a few highly public privacy screw-ups lately as regular code pushes seem to be chock full of irregularities. On Tuesday night a glitch in the system exposed private email addresses. During a routine code push, a bug caused hidden email addresses to appear for about 30 minutes at around 6:45 p.m. EST.
During a regular code push in February several users received misdirected personal messages — including WSJ.com Editor Zach Seward (doh!). And we’re not talking two or three errant messages — Seward said his inbox was flooded with 100 personal messages intended for other people. After being unable to access his account for a little while, he logged on to find that all but two had been removed.
With 400 million users, perhaps the ‘book’s gotten too big for its britches? But that leads to the perpetual question: With all these privacy issues, will the kids (and parents and grandparents) start abandoning Facebook? It seems every six months I see a gaggle of articles suggesting that users are burned out on Facebook and they’re leaving in droves.
What do reporters use to back up this melodramatic claim? One or two jaded users who are probably publicizing their departure from the social network because they couldn’t get enough attention on it.
Yet month after month, we keep seeing the number of Facebook users go up. “Fleeing from Facebook!” sounds like the media trying to force a trend than actually report on it — wanna see a site bleeding users? Perhaps you’ve heard of MySpace… The decline of MySpace, however, has more to do with functionality issues; at the moment, it’s arguable there’s no rival for Facebook in terms of usability.
Of course, Facebook’s proposed policy changes come on the heels of the outrage over Google Buzz. At the South by Southwest Interactive Conference a few weeks ago, Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft, said where Buzz’s tragic flaw was Google’s assumption that if users didn’t want to play Buzz, they would opt out. Facebook did something similar in December when it automatically set data options to public when a users failed to address the popup warnings.
Is Facebook making another bad assumption with “Reverse Beacon”? Well, at least they’re testing the waters instead of diving in headfirst like Google did with Buzz.