Chapell & Associates

Monday, November 26, 2007

Facebook's Beacon Program

There's been a good deal of noise around Facebook's beacon program, the company’s new advertising system. (See here, here and here.)

Btw, I am extremely sympathetic to the argument that MANY (if not most) people don't really care about any of this. The problem is that SOME do, and they can be a very vocal minority. Moreover, the Beacon program can (and already has) provided great fodder for the press and advocates looking to provide that 'gotcha' story. The same advocates who were struggling to define harm at the recent FTC behavioral advertising forum now have their “Aha” moment -their shining example of WHY the interactive space needs further governmental regulation.

My take? This is nothing new. I think Facebook is simply running up against the same issues that have created problems for other social networks over the years. Specifically, how does a social network offer adequate permissioning and information sharing options given the complex nature of human interrelation? And how can the social network create those permissions in a way that is easy and straightforward enough so that most Users will be both willing and able to use them?

Case in point - I am a moderate User of Facebook, and I have maybe 250 friends – a list that includes; clients, people I went to high school with, close friends, people I met while speaking at trade shows, former co-workers, and at least a few people I’ve met randomly. I don’t mind sharing my email and postal address, my band’s myspace page, my company URL and a few pictures with just about anyone. (It's all on my website anyway) However, there are other things that I might not want to share with all of my Facebook friends. And a list of what I’ve recently purchased is something that (at least for me) is not something that I necessarily want broadcasted to those friends.

What happens if my girlfriend sees that I've bought lingerie or a diamond ring recently? (And imagine the fallout if either or both gifts never makes it into her stocking this xmas!) (just an example....)

So I’m not yet ready to castigate Facebook on this, but I do think the company needs to be more sensitive in the future. Relevant advertising is fantastic. Permission marketing is even better. But as others have pointed out, the Beacon program is neither of those things. And that’s a problem. Data collected for one purpose should not be used for another unless the data provider has been notified that the deal has changed.

So here's what I think Facebook should do in the short term.
  • Provide Facebook Users with MUCH better notice of the Beacon program - and do so in multiple places. I don't necessarily think that they need to make Beacon an opt-in program, but I think they absolutely must make sure that Users know about it. And clearly, there are too many examples where Facebook hasn't done that sufficiently.

  • Enable Users to edit their list of purchased products after the fact – Many Facebook Users update their profiles on a daily basis. The upload new photos, change their preferences, list new favorite movies, Etc. Similarly, Facebook Users should have the opportunity to edit the list of purchases that appears on their profile. I wouldn’t be nearly as ticked off that I missed the notice from saying that the book I purchased would wind up on my Facebook profile if I could simply delete the purchase after the fact.

  • Offer a Universal opt-out – They were apparently planning to do this at one point. Bring it back, folks!

    I’ve often said that with large databases comes large responsibility. Facebook has compiled significant information on its User base. What the company chooses to do with that information over the next 18 months will go a long way towards validating that hefty $15 billion valuation - or not.

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posted by Alan on Monday, November 26, 2007

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