MoveOn Takes On Facebook

MoveOn.org is turning its organizing prowess on one of the very tools it uses for its mobilizing efforts. The liberal group’s Civic Action division mounted an effort today against Facebook’s Beacon advertising feature, claiming it infringes user privacy and “sullies” social networking communities.

MoveOn is objecting to a new advertising technique that Facebook announced a few weeks ago that posts members’ purchases and activities on other websites in their Facebook profiles. Users can choose not to have the information posted from individual sites, or “opt out,” whereas with most Facebook applications associated with external sites, users must proactively choose to participate, or “opt in.” With the Beacon feature, if a user does not specifically decline participation, his or her Facebook friends will get a “news feed” notice about the purchase.

In an approach not that unusual on the social networking site, MoveOn has created a Facebook group to protest against Facebook, complete with link to MoveOn’s petition encouraging Facebook to “respect privacy.”

MoveOn is not anti-Facebook. Adam Green, a spokesman for MoveOn Civic Action, said his group is trying to “preserve the integrity” of the site.

“Facebook and similar sites have the potential to really revolutionize how we speak to each other in our society,” Mr. Green said. “When people see their privacy violated, it sullies the entire thing.”

He said MoveOn is worried people will abandon Facebook out of privacy concerns.

MoveOn’s demands could be satisfied by making the Beacon feature “opt in.” Right now, users who don’t want the information displayed need to opt out after purchases at each participating external site.

However, Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, said MoveOn is “misstating the way this process works.”
He said the purchase appears only in the news feeds of confirmed friends and on the individual’s profile (users have control over who can see their profiles), not to the “world.” Mr. Kelly also pointed out that two ways to opt out, at the point of purchase on the external Web site, via a box that pops up, but fades away in under a minute and the next time they sign into their accounts. If users ignore the notification, the purchase information will be displayed, but nothing happens until the user signs in.

“The fact that Facebook users across the country are shocked that their purchases are being showed to everyone they know shows that Facebook’s safeguards are not sufficient,” Mr. Green said.

At posting, the MoveOn’s protest group had more than 2,500 members. Wall postings expressed lots of outrage, but so far, at least, problems seemed to be limited to spoiled Christmas gift surprises and people being “creeped out” because a co-worker knew which movie they were going to see.

Still, Mr. Green sees this effort as part of a “simmering users rights movement,” which also went after MySpace, a Facebook rival, for what it viewed as censorship earlier this year.

Matt Hicks, a corporate spokesman for Facebook, stressed that site administrators are listening to user feedback.

“We have had a few instances where people were surprised, not necessarily angry, but surprised that their purchase showed up on their Facebook feed,” said Josh Mohrer, director of retail for BustedTees.com, a site that uses Beacon advertising, told the blog Webware. “I think when it becomes ubiquitous, which it most certainly will as Facebook things tend to be, that people will get used to it and see it as a good thing.”

[NYTimes.com is a client of Facebook’s new marketing effort, with a Facebook page created for the company itself. However, some travel features, which do use the Beacon feature, require active opt-in, according to a Times spokeswoman, and The Times is not using the social advertising feature because of concerns about user privacy.]

Source: New York Times

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Posted in Civil liberties and human rights, Internet, Legal, Media, Money, Reports/Studies/Books, Technology

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