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Feeling Betrayed, Facebook Users Force Site to Honor Their Privacy

Beacon is a key part of what Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, 23, called "a completely new way of advertising online." Sometimes, ads accompany the news feeds. The ads could contain a person's photo.

Yesterday Facebook issued an apology on MoveOn's Facebook page: "We're sorry if we spoiled some of your holiday gift-giving plans."

In a news release last night, Facebook said "we appreciate feedback from all Facebook users and made some changes to Beacon in the past day. Users now have more control over stories that get published."

Marketers can target paid social ads on Facebook according to criteria such as age, gender, political views and taste in movies, Zuckerberg told media and ad executives at the launch, according to Online Media Daily.

"What's unique about Facebook is it's really turning over personal profile data to advertisers," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group. "In essence, it's telling advertisers, we know exactly who your targets are, what their favorite entertainment is, the books they read, the kinds of social networks they have, what their political leanings are."

Chester's group, along with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Facebook and MySpace, a rival social networking site that is also targeting members for ads, are using deceptive practices to violate people's privacy.

MoveOn has created a blog on its Facebook page for people to post comments. The wall contained more than 800 as of yesterday.

They include Tasha Valdez from Michigan, who wrote: "Oh my gosh, my cousin's entire Christmas shopping list this week was displayed on the [Facebook News] feed. That's so messed up. This has gotta stop!"

Beacon's risks go beyond ruining someone's Christmas, said Mike Rogers, editor and publisher of a gay-oriented Web site, PageOneQ. "We teach young people to be very careful about what they post and all of a sudden comes along an automated system like this. What happens if a kid is on a football team and he buys a ticket to 'Brokeback Mountain' [a gay-themed film]?" he said, alluding to the possibility that the youth could be outed and harassed as a result.

For Lane, spoiling his wife's surprise was bad enough.

Within two hours after he bought the ring on Overstock.com, he received an instant message from his wife, Shannon: Who is this ring for?

What ring, he messaged back, from his laptop at work in Waltham, Mass.

She said that Facebook had just put an item on his page saying he bought a ring. It included a link to Overstock, which noted that the 51 percent discount on the ring.

Lane, 28, a technical project manager at an online printing company, was crestfallen. He had gone to lengths to keep the ring a secret, even telling Shannon he was not going to give her jewelry this year.

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.

"I was really disappointed because for me the whole fun of Christmas is the surprise," said Shannon Lane, 28, who married Sean a year ago in September. "I never want to know what I'm getting."

Staff writer Ylan Mui contributed to this report.


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