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Rough seas nearly sink Facebook's Beacon
Written by Daniel   
Friday, 30 November 2007 09:31

November 30, 2007 4:00 AM PST
Posted by Caroline McCarthy/ C/Net News

 Facebook's "Beacon" advertising program nearly ran aground this week.

First, the liberal activist group tore into the strategy, which shares members' activity from third-party sites on their Facebook "news feeds," as an invasion of privacy. Then MoveOn upped the ante earlier this week over the program's lack of an opt-out control. Then, on Thursday, reports began to surface that the program was close to being heavily altered or even cut altogether. The advertising program continues to be scrutinized by legal experts, and several advocacy groups have already filed complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.

Welcome to the big time, Facebook. The site, which grew fast and was considered a cultural curio in the wake of its pioneering developer platform launch now must justify a stunning $15 billion valuation and prove that its reported 50-plus million users can be mined for major dollars.

Now the company has received a harsh lesson on what it means to be in the spotlight, and just how tricky it is to use the demographic and behavior information about its readers for targeted advertising. As social media companies ranging from MySpace to Digg have learned, it's the users, as much as the executives, who are in charge.

And just three weeks after announcing the Beacon advertising effort with fanfare in New York, those users along with some very noisy advocacy groups like MoveOn, spoke loudly: they weren't happy.

On Thursday, Facebook customer service representative Paul Janzer posted a note of reassurance to supporters of MoveOn's protest group, hinting that alterations was on the way. That evening, Facebook officially responded with a press release announcing some changes to the advertisements that require users to click an "OK" button before any story is published to their News Feeds.

It's an improvement for sure. MoveOn representatives cited "victory" in an e-mail on Thursday evening, but in a sense, they still didn't get everything they lobbied for. Spokesman Adam Green had told CNET in an e-mail earlier on Thursday that the organization intended to pose two major questions to Facebook about Beacon. "Is it still possible for private transactions made on other Web sites to be displayed publicly on Facebook without explicit permission?" he explained in the e-mail, adding "Is there now a way for users to permanently block Beacon, so they can have peace of mind that the problem is dealt with? (The) answer needs to be yes."... More   Comment in the Forums

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