I’ve been reading an interesting post about Facebook Beacon, which together with the other posts it links to gives a pretty good overview of the technology and why people are concerned about it.
In layman’s terms, what Facebook Beacon provides is a way for third party websites to find out whether a user is logged on to Facebook, and to perform actions on Facebook based on what you do on their site. The examples used in the article are from e-commerce sites, so one person has bought a coffee table and the mini-feed in Facebook has told all her friends, and another added some DVD’s to their rental list, and again this was reported to all the listed friends. Currently there are 44 third-party sites signed up, but more are being added.
From a technical point of view it is pretty clever (check here for the technical breakdown of exactly what it does), especially as it isn’t being done with some sort of complicated data exchange, however from a personal privacy point of view it is a decidedly worrying step, especially as there is no global opt-out – you have to opt-out site by site. Just for a moment think of everything you do in your web browser, do you want details of any or all of that being broadcast to all your friends, or more importantly stored away by Facebook?
If you’re a Facebook user and decidedly worried, the simple way to stop it working is to remember to log out of Facebook before browsing to any other site. However if you want a more automated solution, the deconstruction article includes a number of tips as to how to block operation of the system.
Update: Facebook have now implemented a one click opt out from the whole system in their privacy settings – but I’m still going to leave the site block for the beacon address running.