Yesterday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized about the social network’s poorly implemented, privacy-invading Beacon ad program, which broadcast users’ off-Facebook activity in news feeds and caused an ensuing ruckus among geeks and privacy advocates. From Zuckerberg’s blog post statement:
Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information. This is what makes Facebook a good utility, and in order to be a good feature, Beacon also needs to do the same. People need to be able to explicitly choose what they share, and they need to be able to turn Beacon off completely if they don’t want to use it.
This has been the philosophy behind our recent changes. Last week we changed Beacon to be an opt-in system, and today we’re releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here. If you select that you don’t want to share some Beacon actions or if you turn off Beacon, then Facebook won’t store those actions even when partners send them to Facebook.
Facebook has, as of yesterday, allowed users to turn off Beacon entirely, but what’s fascinating about this apology is that the word “advertising” does not appear once in the entire blog post. By framing Beacon just as an information-sharing feature, Zuckerberg is sidestepping one of the most offensive parts of Beacon – that its sole purpose is actually utilizing Facebook’s massive user base to market to each other via what are implied pseudo-recommendations.
As marketing genius Seth Godin noted on his blog several months ago, “The result of Google and the prevalence of search means that people are far more forgiving of things that need to be sought out, and less patient than ever with selfish marketers that insist on showing up in your face.” Though Facebook isn’t search, I think the same principles of “permission marketing” apply when personal information is involved.
But after all the (justified) kicking and screaming over Beacon, it’s comical and a great example of both the site’s reach/influence and maybe also the blog world’s childishness that a very simple move by Facebook this morning – allowing Facebook messages to be read in users’ regular email inbox, no longer requiring a click-through to the site – has the blogosphere in a great mood again.