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Facebook, Beacon and Hysteria - Riffs and Licks
Facebook, Beacon and Hysteria
Thanks to the overwhelming hysteria about Facebook's new "Beacon" program -- the one that sends information about what you buy at certain web sites to your profile -- it has been difficult or impossible to find any facts about how it actually works. So I did a little experimenting this morning.

First, I went to Amazon and bought a CD by the Carter Family, one I'd been meaning to buy for a while. I was already logged into Facebook. Nothing about my purchase showed up on Facebook.

Then I went to epicurious.com, and created a new account, using the same email address I use for Facebook. This is important; I use site-specific email addresses normally, so the email address I use at Amazon is different from the one I use at Facebook. As soon as I finished the account creation process, an Ajax popup came and went very quickly at the bottom of the screen. And when I went to Facebook, I had this in my personal news feed:

Nothing appeared in my public news feed, thanks to the changes Facebook made after the outcry I suppose. I clicked "Remove" and that was the end of that.

So the answer to the question I've been asking for more than a week ("How does Facebook know?") is not magic, it's not cookies, it's just a simple matching of email addresses on your various accounts. And at this point, I have no problem with what they're doing, since they placed a big honking notice at the top of my personal feed telling me what they were going to do, and requiring me to click "Okay" before they did it. Which I did not, so my privacy remains intact.

I gather that the original version of the program would have placed that notice in my public feed and required me to remove it. That is, indeed, unacceptable behavior, and much worse than what I had originally thought htey were doing. But to my mind they've sufficiently addressed the issue, and it's nice to see that public pressure can accomplish something.

In addition, it's a lesson once again that the less you spread around your email address, the better off you'll be. Using site-specific email addresses has saved me a tremendous amount of spam (I know who's sending it, and can turn off or ignore the address) but it also has a privacy benefit as well.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
chamisa From: chamisa Date: December 3rd, 2007 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good to know! Glad you made that experiment. I can't help but wonder; if you hadn't known of any of this Beacon/Facebook stuff, would you have noticed that quickly vanishing popup? And was the notice on your FB profile...noticeable? Would it have confused you if you hadn't heard any of this? And, was that "Always publish" box pre-checked for you? The default is to assume that you do want it published?

Do I ask you too many questions? Um...sorry. :-)

I have to say, I still don't like the fact that this happens at all, even if you do have the option to click "remove" and not have it appear in your public news feed. Do you have the option to globally say "don't send any stories ever to my profile, don't require me to click ok or remove every time" yet?

I mean, I think it's kind of a pain in the ass to have to accept or not accept this stuff...and I just still don't like the whole concept of it at all. I don't know if I'm explaining myself very well. I'm not trying to be hysterical about this--it just kinda leaves a bad, annoying taste in my mouth. But that is just me. :-)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: December 3rd, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wouldn't have noticed the popup if I hadn't read about it already, but the notice in my feed was impossible to miss.

And no, removing it that one time only removed that notice. I went in again and rated a recipe, and right away the popup came up (lasted longer this time):

and a notice was posted to my feed. From the notice, I clicked "Settings," and got this screen:

so I could turn it off permanently.

Overall, you're right, this is still bothersome. As long as I can control it individually, I wouldn't mind it for some kinds of purchases. In fact I'm annoyed with iLike because it won't send my private data (iTunes playlists) to Facebook. But it should be something you actively sign up for, not something that happens without explanation and then requires you to take a lot of steps to stop it.

(And no, all of those were good questions.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 3rd, 2007 10:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here's a sort of related thing I noticed recently on LinkedIn. It now gives you the option to see who has looked at your profile. You only can see where they work, but it's enough info that I was able to see I'd been cyberstalked by an ex-boyfriend who now works at the UN. In spite of the twisted glee I felt at discovering that that loser is still thinking of me, I realized with a bit of alarm that I too could be busted for looking up old flames, old roommates, old nemeses. (D'OH.)

So I mention this PSA: I found you can adjust your LinkedIn profile so nothing shows up if you view someone else's. And the moral of the story is that it just takes a few precautions here and there to seriously improve your online privacy.


p.s. Your old Pointcast t-shirts must be see-through by now. ;)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: December 3rd, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ha, I've had exactly the same experience. But yes, it pays to pay attention to settings like that. The bottom line is that most legitimate sites do let you protect your privacy in reasonable ways, and any level of social networking is, by definition, going to involve giving up some privacy.

(The Pointcast shirt is in better shape than my Money & Investing Update shirt, but I did finally throw out my 1993 News/Retrieval shirt.)
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