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MoveOn to Facebook: We caught you red-handed

The activist group heats up its feud with the social network by alleging that it had once planned to make its controversial "Beacon" advertising more privacy-friendly, but then decided not to.

This story was updated at 2:36 PT to provide comment from Facebook and at 3:59 PT to provide further comment from MoveOn.

Is there more to the controversy surrounding Facebook's "Beacon" ads? MoveOn.org thinks so.

Last week, a feud began to brew between leftist activist group MoveOn.org and social-networking site Facebook concerning its "Beacon" advertisements, which broadcast information about users' activity on third-party partner sites to their friends' Facebook newsfeeds. According to MoveOn, it's a violation of user privacy because there's no way to universally opt out of Beacon ads. Facebook retorted, and the argument has turned into a legitimate debate over how far is really too far when it comes to sharing information about members' activity.

Now, MoveOn is poised to launch a new offensive against Facebook, claiming that early screenshots of Beacon posted by TechCrunch indicated that the advertising application once included a "global opt-out" that would allow members to block it entirely. According to MoveOn, this never made it into the final version, and the organization--which has created a petition and a Facebook group to raise awareness of what it sees as a hot-button issue--wants to know why.

"Facebook should explain why they chose at the last minute to put the wish lists of corporate advertisers ahead of the privacy interests of their users," MoveOn spokesman Adam Green said in a statement from the organization. "Facebook has the potential to revolutionize how we communicate with each other and organize around issues together in a 21st century democracy. But to succeed, they need the trust of their users. The fact that Facebook proactively chose to make it harder for their users to keep private information from being made public will rub a lot of Facebook users the wrong way. The ultimate act of good faith would be to switch to an opt-in policy."

Facebook issued a response on Monday afternoon in the form of an e-mailed statement. "Facebook is listening to feedback from its users and committed to evolving Beacon so users have even more control over the actions shared from participating sites with their friends on Facebook," the statement read. "Facebook already has made changes to ensure that no information is shared unless a user receives notifications both on a participating website and on Facebook."

Shortly thereafter, the back-and-forth spat continued as MoveOn's Adam Green issued a response to the response. "Facebook has made zero changes in Beacon since last week--their policy remains opt-out instead of opt-in, their opt-outs remain well hidden, and if someone does jump through the hoops of opting out it only applies to purchases made on one external web site instead of all sites," Green's statement read. "Why did Facebook pro-actively make it harder for Facebook users to protect their privacy by eliminating the global opt-out feature days before Beacon's launch?"

Meanwhile, reactions are divided. Comments CNET News.com readers voicing their opinions of MoveOn's persistent campaign have ranged from support for what they see as a rally against "outrageous breaches of privacy" to suggestions that if Facebook users have a problem with Beacon that they should, well, move on.

An early screenshot of Beacon, as seen on TechCrunch. TechCrunch