Facebook Rolls Back Beacon Ad Links

Three weeks ago, social networking site Facebook rolled out an expansive new ad platform dubbed Beacon. Under the program, Facebook users who made a purchase on a participating external site would automatically have the purchase published in their profile news feeds unless the user explicitly opted out of the feature.

The capability quickly drew fire from users, privacy advocates, legal experts, and activist group MoveOn.org, who said Beacon’s features crossed the line, turning Facebook users into unwitting marketing platforms for Facebook’s partners, and infringing on users’ privacy by making their private actions public by default.

Now, Facebook has said it will roll back aspects of its Beacon platform, including the requirement that users explicitly opt-out from having purchases at partner sites automatically published in their news feeds. Instead, users will have to explicitly choose to have purchases published in their news feeds; however, Facebook does not currently plan to give its users the capability to opt out of the platform entirely.

“We recognize that users need to clearly understand Beacon before they first have a story published, and we will continue to refine this approach to give users choice,” the company said in a statement.

Some privacy groups like the Center for Digital Democracy and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have been preparing complaints against Facebook to file with the Federal Trade Commission over the Beacon ad platform; none have so far comment on whether Facebook’s current backpedalling will be enough for the groups to stop the complaint process. However, both organizations have lately taken a dim view of the intersection of marketing and social media, arguing that services like Facebook ought to be concerned with protecting their users’ privacy, rather than creating invasive marketing practices.