I have been reading the commentary on Facebook's Beacon feature, which -- with your permission, if you can figure out how to give it -- allows for your on-line purchases to be tracked in your Facebook profile. (Now the advertiser can channel ads through your profile, and you are, in effect, a passive recommender of the product you purchased.)
Now everyone is right to say that this is a horrible invasion of privacy, and that the "opt-in" opportunity should be much more prominent and so forth. Good screenshots at the Times: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/29/the-evolution-of-facebooks-beacon/
But, you know, there is an upside to Beacon, which is that you are getting alerted that you are being tracked. Before Beacon, the tracking just happened on the back-end, and you never got an explicit notice that your purchase was getting aggregated in a multi-dimensional database somewhere.
So: I want everyone who has seen Beacon to reflect on the notion that instead of rejecting Beacon in small, you should be rejecting the entire tracking mechanism tout court, at least in its current form. As a consumer, what you need is a way to vet how that data is collected, and you need a way to export all of it, and delete whatever you want. It was your purchase, and the act of purchasing was at least partially yours as well. When a company tracks your click for revelation to others without your obvious permission, they are stealing from you. (Note that what Beacon is doing is radically different from the mere aggregation of clicks: They are tracking your specific click, and are making that specific click known; this is not the "you" as part of a demographic, but you specifically.) The New York Times quotes an ignorant young person who says: "We know we don’t have a right to privacy, but there still should be a certain morality here, a certain level of what is private in our lives." She is wrong. She does have a right to her privacy, except when First Amendment freedoms, or requirements of the public sphere, overrule. The obvious default is to protect that privacy until it is challenged for good reason. (And if you're in the EU, member countries are obligated to legislate an explicit right to privacy.)
Calacanis says we need a way to export our Facebook data. True. But that's just a start. The Facebook we should be worrying about is the hidden one that lies in the databases of Doubleclick and similar companies.comments powered by Disqus