Facebook facing backlash from privacy violations

Facebook has gone a bit too far with Beacon, tracking users off its site....

Wow. Just when you think Facebook is truly your "friend" you find out that it's spying on you and reporting your activities to your other "friends." The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook is tracking user activities outside of Facebook and reporting that activity to that user's friends within Facebook.

Creepy, indeed.

The social-networking service earlier this month began posting updates about users' activities on Web sites outside of Facebook and on commercial pages within Facebook -- in some cases, alongside ads from the companies behind those Web sites or pages. Facebook is posting users' photos alongside certain advertisements, another feature that has alarmed some privacy advocates and users.

For instance, a user who logs on to Facebook might see an update in a section of the site called the "news feed" noting the movie a friend rented from an online site, along with a photo of that friend and a movie-rental ad.

The program, of course, is called Beacon, and users can opt out of it entirely. Instead, they have to opt out on a case-by-case basis:

Chris Kelly, chief privacy officer of Facebook, said Facebook is transparent in communicating to users what it is tracking. When a user visits an outside site and completes an action like buying a movie ticket, a box shows up in the corner of his Internet browser telling that person the outside Web site is sending that information to Facebook. The user can opt out by clicking on text that reads "No, thanks." If the user doesn't, the next time they visit Facebook, the user will see a message from Facebook asking for permission to show the information to their friends. If the user declines, the information won't be sent.

This is very kind of Facebook. I mean, I'm grateful that it lets me choose when all my non-Facebook activity (which is 99.99999999999999999% of my online activity) won't be reported back. Provided I tell it. Each time it asks. Whenever it wants to know. Facebook defended itself today by saying such advertising is "innovative, not invasive."

Facebook needs to discover other ways of making money. Haunting its users is not one of them. Bringing them together in meaningful activities , including commercial activities, is.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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