No good advocacy campaign is complete without a group on Facebook.com – even when the campaign is taking on Facebook itself.
Liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org is using Facebook to campaign against the networking site’s newest marketing feature. The group has launched a campaign against Facebook Beacon, which tracks Facebook users when they purchase items from 44 online retailers including Fandango, Hotwire and Overstock.com.
If the user doesn’t click a button denying the site permission, Facebook Beacon either displays this information on the site’s News Feed, a feature that updates users on their friends’ activities, or places the purchaser’s profile picture next to the purchased item as an advertisement.
MoveOn, which focuses its campaigns on privacy and media reform, has an advertising page on Facebook with more than 845 users listed as fans. It also has a Facebook group dedicated to protesting the Beacon feature. The group, which has more than 30,500 members, urges members to sign MoveOn’s petition against Facebook Beacon, saying the feature violates consumers’ privacy.
Facebook spokeswoman Malorie Lucich said in an e-mail that 44 websites are currently participating in Beacon, and the site plans to add more.
“Facebook wants to give users the stories that they’ll find the most interesting and relevant,” she said. “The interesting actions users and their friends take happen both on and off of Facebook. Depending on the privacy settings of everyone involved, News Feed can now show stories about the actions that a user’s friends are taking on participating external sites.”
The launch of Facebook Beacon comes a little over a year after Facebook News Feed angered some users who thought the feature infringed on their privacy. Ultimately, it gained gradual acceptance.
Facebook advertises Beacon as a way for brands and businesses to use word-of-mouth promotion through their websites. Customers must be logged into Facebook while they are making purchases. When a transaction is completed, an invisible image and script are triggered, giving the website access to the Facebook cookie, which tracks the users.
A pop-up window appears, and buyers are given 20 seconds to choose whether or not to have this information published on Facebook. If they don’t respond, the information is automatically shared. Facebook users can then delete the story from their account, but only after it has been put online.
There is no way to permanently remove the option of having users’ actions on external sites reported.
Nick Ward, a freshman in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, said he noticed reports on Facebook of his friends’ actions on other sites and was confused. He said people’s activities on Facebook are meant to be public but that people don’t expect their friends to find out what they do on other websites.
“I don’t understand why everyone needs to know what’s happening within their network of friends every second,” he said. “Facebook is turning into Big Brother.”
Ward said users shouldn’t be required to ask that their purchases not be tracked.
“It’s crossing a line, because if someone misses that 20 second window they have no control over what is published on Facebook,” Ward said.
Claes Fornell, an expert on customer satisfaction measurement and customer asset management, said this violates an individual’s privacy rights.
“It’s a risky business model to assume that somebody’s giving permission when they may not be,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ethical to assume you have permission because you did not get a response.”