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Enough about Facebook Beacons

December 3rd, 2007

Tired of hearing about Beacons? I know I am, so if you are, stop reading. (yes, that probably makes me a hypocrite for writing this post in the first place).

First off — It’s fascinating how the Silicon Valley love-fest can backfire like all hell. Just a few months ago Facebook was the best platform. Everyone proclaimed they were going to win, they had the winning API, they were so much cooler and better than Myspace. Kind of amazing how fast people will turn on you.

Second I’d like to point you to a Freakonomics post, “Why Is Family Guy Okay When Imus Wasn’t?”, which has probably the best explanation as to why this seems to have such a dramatic impact. Stephen asks why Imus got fired from his job for a bad racist comment when a show like Family guy airs similar or worse comments on a daily basis:

5. There is no real difference between the two, but the kind of big public storm that resulted in Imus being fired is essentially a random event, unpredictable and nearly inexplicable, and it typically arises when political, social, and media pressures all align just right. It can’t be concocted, or controlled. It happened to Imus because it happened; and it hasn’t happened to Family Guy just because it hasn’t.

Now to some extent this wasn’t a purely random event. Facebook has been the poster-child of the valley, so it was only a matter of time until they made a bad move. The fact that everyone happened to pick Beacons, more random.

What bugs me is that the media picked this particular invasion to draw attention to. You think Beacons are invasive? How about the fact that your ISP might be installing a sniffer box that not only tracks what you buy — it tracks everything. It tracks what movies you watch, what sites you go to, where you purchase things, how often you purchase things. I mean, that freaks me out a hell of a lot more than a little Facebook Beacon — because one you can control, the other you cannot. Don’t believe me? Check out: NebuAd or AdZilla. Or how about Errorsafe? The little program that installs on your machine and probably sniffs out and steals your credit card numbers when you buy something. It’s being distributed via advertising networks left & right, yet I don’t see much media attention there either.

Maybe it was part random, part fate — but Facebook has definitely gotten the full fury of the blogosphere thrown at it these past few weeks. So bloggers & journalists. We get the point — Facebook invades your privacy. It has from day one, showing your friends pictures, status updates, all sorts of things. Don’t like it? Stop using Facebook. In the meantime, please pay some attention to some more invasive and much scarier things, like Errorsafe or ISPs that sniff and sell your data without the opportunity to opt-out.