Chris Apollo Lynn In the News: New York Times (December 6th, 2007)
Back in December 2007, I wrote for and edited socialTNT, a popular blog on social media, marketing, PR, and Journalism.
That month Facebook, ever looking to push the privacy envelope, unleashed Beacon, a clunky first attempt to harvest user behavioral data. At the time, I knew a lot of Facebook folks and could see Mark Zuckerberg’s profile. So like any good blogger, I decided to snoop around and see if there was any indication that Zuckerberg was concerned about the lashing he was getting in the press. What I found: While users were revolting and the media was giving him a good lashing, he was in the midst of a heavy game of Jetpack, a Facebook game.
Well, I wrote about it. Later that day, Louise Story, a reporter at the New York Times, called me up and asked me for a comment. To my surprise, the a pretty large quote appeared the next day in a piece that discussed Facebook and Zuckerberg’s apology.
Not a bad early birthday present that year!
By LOUISE STORY
Published: December 6, 2007
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive of the social networking site Facebook, apologized to the site’s users yesterday about the way it introduced a controversial new advertising feature last month.
Facebook also introduced a way for members to avoid the feature, known as Beacon, which tracks the actions of its members when they use other sites around the Internet.
Mr. Zuckerberg’s apology — in the form of a blog post on Facebook — followed weeks of criticism from members, privacy groups and advertisers.
“I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation, and I know we can do better,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote.
Facebook has also been meeting with advertising agencies in recent days and discussing their concerns about Beacon, according to one executive who was invited.
Facebook originally presented Beacon to the advertising community as an opt-in program that its members would choose to use. It planned to sell ads alongside the messages sent to people’s friends about their purchases and activities on other sites. Some advertisers like Coca-Cola have expressed surprise that Beacon then required users to take action if they did not want the messages sent out.
“This is a bit of an example of Facebook being, as we refer to it, ‘out over your skis.’ They got a little bit ahead of themselves,” said Elizabeth Ross, president of the digital advertising agency Tribal DDB West, a part of the Omnicom Group.
Ms. Ross said advertisers did not want Facebook to push its users into a system like Beacon against their will.
But that was what happened for a few weeks after Beacon was introduced Nov. 6. Facebook gave users two notices that it planned to broadcast their actions to their friends — one when they were on an external Web site making a purchase and the other when they came back to Facebook.
The notices were small at first, and when users ignored them, Facebook assumed the users had granted permission.
After more than 50,000 Facebook users signed a petition about Beacon that was initiated by the political group MoveOn.org Civic Action, Facebook changed its policy last Thursday so that users who ignored the warnings were considered to have said no. But a Facebook executive said then that the company would not offer users a universal opt-out for Beacon.
“We need to make sure we give them the ability to see what things can do for them,” Chamath Palihapitiya, vice president for product marketing and operations at Facebook, said in an interview last Thursday.
Although Facebook has made the changes that MoveOn.org and others requested, some users said they believed the company had not been forthcoming.
“I feel like my trust in Facebook has been violated,” said Christopher Lynn, 30, a Facebook user who also writes a blog on social media. “Facebook created this space that was a private space, where we share our experiences, and to share this data behind our backs is upsetting.”
Robert French, a communications professor at Auburn University in Alabama, has been lecturing about Beacon recently, and he said his students — nearly all Facebook users — were shocked to learn about Beacon.
Privacy groups are working on a complaint to federal regulators about Facebook’s advertising program. In addition to Beacon, the new program includes profile pages created by advertisers and ads sent to users based on what they write about in their profiles.
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said Mr. Zuckerberg should have explained Facebook’s full advertising and data collection program to users.
“The user needs to decide how their information is going to be used, whether it’s going to be used for targeting at all, which advertisers have access to it and whether Facebook has the right to collect and analyze it,” he said. “Facebook is saying it is a safe place for you to share your innermost secrets; what’s not being told to users is that they are selling those secrets.”