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Facebook: Beacon Of Light Or Darkness?

Over at the Just an Online Minute blog, Wendy Davis has highlighted some very valid and disturbing web site usability practices at the Facebook.com site. From a November 26 post:

"It’s glaringly obvious that the new program — which alerts people’s friends of their online purchases — violates users’ privacy. And, while Facebook argues that the program poses no threat because users can always opt out of it, it’s now come to light that the opt-out mechanism itself is seriously flawed... That’s because the opt-out mechanism consisted of a small pop-up that vanishes 20 seconds after it appeared. After the window disappears, so does the user’s chance to opt out."

A quickly vanishing opt-out mechanism? That doesn't sound right nor acceptable. Reportedly, about 44 companies participate in Facebook's Beacon program. Notables include Fandango, Travelocity, and Zappos. What business wants their name associated with Facebook's foolishness?

If you have followed I've Been Mugged posts, then you know that opt-out mechanisms are a critical tool are for consumers. Consumers want and demand control over who has access to their personal information.

Since I don't use Facebook, I have not experienced the problems Davis reported with Facebook. I use LinkedIn, since the professional people I need to stay in contact with use LinkedIn. It's always been clear to me that sound business rule is to give your customers what they want. Facebook seems to insist on giving users an unwanted feature.

In a November 27 post, Davis responds to Facebook's claim that Facebook has fixed the problem. Perhaps not. The bottom line according to Davis:

"If Facebook wants to implement a real fix here, it will listen to the 25,000-plus users who have joined the MoveOn protest group, “Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!” and stop telling members’ friends about their purchases when there’s any doubt about whether the members want to share that information."

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