How To Turn Off Beacon in Facebook

As you probably already know, Facebook recently introduced Beacon, its latest privacy invasion and marketing crapola feature designed to look like a fun “sharing” thing when in fact it is just another monster in the Mark Zuckerberg “monetize everything” world of Facebook.

Here are a few reasons why Beacon sucks and should be banished from Facebook and the Web:

  • Beacon follows an “opt out” design, meaning it is on by default and you have to take action to prevent it from spamming your information around. Lesson number one in Web privacy and ethical marketing is that any sharing of information should be strictly “opt in” (meaning it only shares information if you actively choose to participate).
  • There is a high potential for embarrassment when Facebook tells everyone you know what books you are buying, what movies you are renting, what trips you are planning, and what comments you are leaving on various Web sites.
  • There are already reports of Facebook “ruining Christmas” by announcing (via Beacon) the purchases of people who had planned on using those purchases as surprise Christmas gifts.
  • Taking a bit of raw information (“Bob just bought a book from Amazon”) and arbitrarily turning it into a marketing pitch on behalf of the book, and of Amazon, is a misappropriation of people’s voices and authority. Just because I bought the book does not mean I endorse it or the retailer
  • Linking people’s online identities and their activities without their permission is just plain wrong, and should probably be considered illegal.
  • Facebook is already a noise machine. What possible value is there in announcing to everyone you know that you just bought Jean Cretien’s memoirs, or left a comment on Epicurious, or rated a movie at the New York Times. Do we really need to add more worthless information to the din? There’s sharing and there’s fogging. Crap like this turns the web (and our minds) into fog storms of mass, inconsequential data noise.

Dare Obasanjo posted an excellent article about Beacon and its abuses last week. I suggest you read it if you’re not absolutely clear on why Beacon is a problem. But one thing in particular caught my eye; he quotes Charlene Li, a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, as saying “I put a lot of trust in sites like Facebook to do the right thing when it comes to privacy. After all, the only stuff that gets out into the public is the stuff that I actually put in. Until now.”

Huh? A grown-up, a principal analyst at a leading market research company, puts trust in Facebook? Facebook was founded, and is run by, a 23 year old hacker and alleged intellectual property thief!

Mark Zuckerberg has “apologized” for the fiasco on the Facebook blog. He also mentions that Facebook has put a new switch in its Privacy settings which (supposedly) turns Beacon off altogether. It’s very easy to do, as you’ll see below.

How To Turn Off Beacon in Facebook

First, go to the Privacy page (you’ll see a link to it in the upper-right corner).

On the Privacy page, click the “Edit Settings” link for “External Websites.”

On the page that appears, check the box next to “Don’t allow any websites to send stories to my profile. Then click “Save” and that should be it.

Note that it doesn’t explicitly say “Turn off Beacon,” but according to Zuckerberg’s blog post, that’s what it does. (But if you trust Mark Zuckerberg, then you’re a bigger idiot than he is.)

Incidentally, during all this furor over Beacon, a lot of people have attacked Facebook and Zuckerberg (rightly so, I would say), but hardly anyone has mentioned the dozens of companies that have partnered into the scheme. A few, such as Coca-cola, Travelocity, and Overstock, have backed out (or at least sidelined themselves) over the privacy concerns, but what about the rest of them? It’s not like Facebook is acting alone on this.