Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Spero Ventures. Early LinkedIn, Twitter. These are my thoughts on tech, brand, marketing and community.

Facebook Beacon lights a firestorm in a teacup?

Summary: Beacon lights a fire storm of privacy issues — Word-of-mouth marketing or misplaced advertising? — Why Matthew Ingram and Justin Smith are wrong on the Beacon issue is targeting Facebook Beacon as an invasion of privacy — Big Brother style (alright, I’m guilty of the gratuitous Apple reference, the 1984 Mac commercial)

What is Facebook Beacon?
Beacon is a way for businesses to let their customers “share the actions they take on your website with their Facebook friends.” In other words, it’s a new way for Facebook users to log and broadcast their outside-of-Facebook online activity inside Facebook.

Why is it bothering users of Facebook?
The chief privacy concern raised by MoveOn is that Beacon is opt-out, not opt-in. (via Inside Facebook)

What is Matthew Ingram saying?
Matthew Ingram, quotes Justin Smith (Inside Facebook) to make his case that Facebook Beacon’s woes are overstated by Charlene Li and that this one will also pass:

It was almost exactly a year ago that Facebook suddenly allowed everything you did on the site to be published to your news feed so that everyone could see it, and plenty of users went completely apeshit about it being a heinous invasion of privacy, etc. Facebook was excoriated for the way it handled the announcement, and for the fact that it forced people to opt out instead of allowing them to opt in and configure who saw what, and generally it was a tsunami of negative publicity.

As Justin notes, 100 times as many people got upset about the news feed as joined the Moveon protest, and that one blew over eventually.

Now, here’s why I beg to differ:

  1. The furore over Newsfeed did not subside until critical adjustments were made to the newsfeed culminating in an apology by Mark Zuckerberg:

We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I’d like to try to correct those errors now.

Somehow we missed this point with News Feed and Mini-Feed and we didn’t build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it. But apologizing isn’t enough. I wanted to make sure we did something about it, and quickly. So we have been coding nonstop for two days to get you better privacy controls. This new privacy page will allow you to choose which types of stories go into your Mini-Feed and your friends’ News Feeds, and it also lists the type of actions Facebook will never let any other person know about. If you have more comments, please send them over.

BTW, the above blog post by Mark is one of the best examples of a CEO responding to user concerns in as timely a manner as possible. Another case in point of such swift response by a CEO would be Steve Jobs apology in response to the furore over the iPhone drop. Now, this is how CEOs should blog; not every day! (Read more of my posts on corporate blogging here)

  1. While the news feed, after above changes turned out to be the “magnetic and social and addictive” as Matthew states, Beacon on the other hand is about monitoring your purchases outside of Facebook and it does so in many cases without your knowledge (Anyone in the know, please correct me if I’m wrong. Dave?). I’ve a strong suspicion that this also depends on the purchase site.

I’ve to state that although it looks like Charlene didn’t notice a msg. when she purchased stuff on Overstock, two other colleagues of mine, noticed a pop-up from Fandango and Overstock respectively saying that this information was going to be passed onto Facebook. What has your experience been?

Finally, what do I think of Beacon personally?

As an avid blogger/social media type, I don’t mind it, as long as I’m aware of it. I just noticed my colleague Steve Ganz had bought tickets to a movie via Fandango and he seemed fine with others on his feed knowing about it. However, I’d agree totally with Charlene Li of Forrester who recently had close encounters of the beacon kind that users need to be aware of such transactions being passed onto Facebook:

But I need to be in control and not get blindsided as I did in the example above. I was seriously wigged out, but wouldn’t have been if Overstock had simply told me that they were inserting a Facebook Beacon and given me the opportunity at that time to opt-in to Beacon.

Having said that let me clarify that both, Steve and I are edge case users/twitterers/bloggers who may not mind such “announcements” but the majority of users may either ruin their Christmas surprise or worse still aggravate their professional relationships (if they have professional contacts on Facebook) by exposing their personal choice/purchases in books (think hot button topics like religion, politics, etc…), and the like.

What do you think of Facebook Beacon? Is it similar to the News feed issue or is it far more of a privacy concern for you? Leave comments.

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Disclosure: For those of you not aware, I work as community evangelist at LinkedIn and these are purely my personal ramblings.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Facebook, Public Relations

11 Responses

  1. Great wrap up, I alerted Twitter land to your post!


  2. Mario Sundar says:

    Thanks, J. I appreciate it.

    BTW, a reminder to readers to check out your post where you describe Facebook advertising very succinctly |


  3. Jon Ray says:

    Great write up! I think the biggest issue is disclosure. I don’t have a problem with Facebook and other third party sites gossiping about my shopping habits, so long as they make me aware of it from the beginning.

    What I don’t want to see is Facebook just hording all of this information, though, for their own purposes. I’m willing to give up information on my spending and web surfing habits, so long as Facebook can figure out a way to take that data and make my user experience more enjoyable.

    If I’m giving up some kind of information, I want something in return and that something should be a better user experience.


  4. Mario Sundar says:

    Hey, Thanks Jon.

    Yes! Disclosure is imperative and I think some of us will find the news feed quite interesting when it feeds information about our real friends.


  5. […] seems to be the season for lighting wildfire rumors. We cruised along the week, with our story on Facebook Beacon lighting a firestorm in a teacup and boom, Mike Butcher (TechCrunch) lights a rumor around a LinkedIn buyout by News Corp. […]


  6. Dave McClure says:

    sorry, i disagree… not that big a deal. opt-out rather than opt-in, but otherwise not such a huge privacy violation.

    see my post here:

    i agree with justin… will be much discussion, but it will blow over soon, and most folks won’t care.


  7. Mario Sundar says:

    Dave, like you, I don’t have a big problem with the process of opt-out you’ve outlined in your post particularly if I’m prompted for it when I make the purchase.

    But I think the rest of the world, like may have some issues.


  8. Jonathan Trenn says:


    Maybe it’s me, but I’m thinking that Beacon crosses a line. It shouldn’t be up to a user to suddenly take extra steps to make sure a purchase he or she made on a non-Facebook page not appear on Facebook. The user’s relationship is, at that point, with the online retailer. The user isn’t benefiting from Beacon. In fact, it can result in some pretty embarrassing disclosures.

    Not everyone is as clued into the social media/Web 2.0 marketing techniques. They don’t read blogs like yours. They just want to buy something and leave it at that.

    Just blogged about it here:

    Wondering about your thoughts.


  9. […] about the privacy concerns that are currently being actively discussed, this non-trivial javascript pattern for sharing data will most likely be used in many other cross […]


  10. Mario Sundar says:

    Looks like the Move On issue seems to snowball. This is an important issue on privacy since it will set the precedent for future debate.


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