Computerworld reports that privacy advocates are rejoicing over Facebook’s decision to shut down its “Beacon” feature. There, Facebook gathered data on users’ transactions with third-party sites and broadcast users’ purchases to their friends in “social ads” that appeared on Facebook. The social networking site automatically broadcast these details, placing the burden upon users to opt-out of the Beacon program.
Facebook on Friday said that it was willing to shut down Beacon and create a settlement fund of $9.5 million to resolve a lawsuit filed against it in August 2008. The suit, filed in San Jose, alleged that Facebook and Beacon affiliates such as Blockbuster and Overstock.com had violated several privacy laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Video Privacy Protection Act, when they shared data about Facebook users with each other.
After considerable public pressure, Facebook changed Beacon in 2007 and required users to affirmatively opt-in before publicizing their purchases. But the controversy continued.
“Beacon was a disaster, not because it used people’s personal information for commercial marketing purposes,” said James Grimmelmann, an associate professor at New York Law School. “It was a disaster because it used people’s personal information commercially and then rubbed their faces in it, literally.” […]
Grimmelmann called Beacon “an intensely alienating, unforced error by Facebook.”