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.

31 thoughts on “How To Turn Off Beacon in Facebook

  1. Certainly Facebook is a prime example of how the mass integration of web services and centralization of our personal information can go wrong, but there’s one thing you maybe didn’t consider Blork and that’s that it’s very easy to opt out… of Facebook. Facebook is just one in a long line of social network website fads. Friendster, Orkut, Xanga, MySpace… you can join any one of these other sites or none at all. I keep in contact with my friends just fine without poking them, buying them “drinks”, or having them know what I’m watching or reading. I use e-mail and my cel phone, and that’s good enough for me. I say, if you want your private life to stay private, keep it off the tubes.

  2. Tux, do you really think I haven’ t thought of that?

    I agree that you can simply choose to not use Facebook, but that’s a cop out. The reality is that social networking is huge, and it’s not going away any time soon. It’s bullshit to say it’s ok to design nasty, trap-laden applications because people can choose not to use them. That’s like saying it’s ok to build defective cars because people can choose not to drive them.

    No. If you’re going to build something that has mass appeal and will be adopted for use on a massive scale, then you have an obligation to do it right, and to fully disclose what you’re really doing and what’s going on when people participate.

  3. Blork . . . the web is entirely opt in . . . it is one massive serious of personal choices . . . websites, especially those that draw you in by claiming to have created space where you can exercise this powerful process of choice – and then attempt to slip in a pre-programmed choice (like Beacon) because people might not be looking is at the least dishonest . . . ever choice I make on the web should be mine and mine alone, this reminds me of the way in which MS Word tries to out-think you and finish your sentences for you or keep you from doing something you intended to do . . .

    Leave my choices to me!

  4. Um, Greg, I’m not sure what your point is. I understand your comment in isolation, but it sounds like we’re saying the same thing although your tone suggests you think you disagree with me. Did you read my post? Do you understand what I’m saying?

    And for the record, the idea that the web is entirely “opt in” is losing currency quickly. Clothing is also optional, but if you choose not to wear clothes (ever) you’re going to have to live a pretty sheltered life.

    The reality is that the web is so pervasive in our society that opting out of it means a level of disconnectedness and isolation that many people would not be happy with.

    This is particularly true with young people. For a 15 year old in an urban setting, to NOT be on Facebook and Myspace is like social suicide.

  5. Blork, make no mistake. Operators of big commercial websites don’t have any responsibility to their users. That’s why, to join any of these websites, you have to agree to 10 small-print pages of giving up your rights. I think you’re right that what they’re doing is wrong, but I’d argue that what’s silly is expecting them to make moral choices. It’s the nature of the system. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care what you think, he cares what the shareholders think. Hence the “monetization of everything”. Beacon is only an embarrassment to Facebook in that a lot of users don’t like it. They don’t care one way or another that it’s morally questionable, only that it might lose them users (customers).

    My position on the matter is that you can’t expect large organizations with access to TONS of personal data not to try and exploit it every way they can. That’s capitalism. I applaud your bringing attention to the issue, because it is important, but I believe we can wage a more effective war against these people by simply not giving them what they want in the first place. Our time and attention. There are other, just as effective ways to communicate that don’t involve trusting a third party with way more information then we’d trust even our close friends with.

  6. More:

    Blork, you make some good points, really. It’s true that for a lot of people, opting out completely wouldn’t make sense, but as you said, this is the direction the web is moving in. As long as our god is the almighty dollar, and as long as running a website with many users is hard or impossible to do charitably (you need big money for big bandwidth) as vocal as advocates for social responsibility such as yourself may be… it’s not going to change anything at the top of these companies where things like Beacon are born. The only thing these people listen to is money. I speak to them by not giving them my cash, or my eyeball time (which to them is almost as good)

  7. Tux, that “it’s capitalism” line is also a cop out. There are enterprises and corporations all around us that are beholden to laws and other codes of practice. Car companies didn’t start putting seatbelts and airbags into their products because it was more profitable to do so; they did it to avoid liability suits.

    Remember when RealAudio got busted for secretly tracking and storing people’s offline music preferences? That was eight years ago, and the precedences set by the resulting lawsuits are still benchmarks for online privacy laws. Ditto the famous Doubleclick controversy from 2000.

    The web is not the wild, wild, west. There are rules and laws. There are codes of conduct and communities of practice. There are right ways and wrong ways to do things, and the bottom line is not always the determining factor.

  8. Alright, you might have sold me on that. It’s true, other companies have standards they must uphold for the good of us all AND at their own expense. Do social networking websites have basic responsibilities in terms of user choices and ethical behaviour? Absolutely. Are these responsibilities /well/ codified by law? Weeeelll… it starts to get hairy. You read this:

    “By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.”

    And then clicked “I agree” didn’t you? The definition of “user content” can probably be extended to any information they can collect about you on the server side, and that’s a lot of information! More than most people are aware of, even when just casually browsing!

    I think it’s going to be a good long time before common sense rules when it comes to technology. Look at Jammie Thomas. (Record companies awarded $200,000 in punitive damages against a single mom with an income of $36,000 a year) It was not proven in Jammie’s case that any actual copying had taken place. Merely that Jammie’s Kazaa configuration would have /allowed/ other people to download songs off her computer. The fact is, money still talks and sticking your head in the sand and saying it ain’t so is just as much a cop out.

    Until the old white men in the positions of power understand the internet fundamentally, stuff like Beacon is just going to keep happening over and over again. We’re not going to see change until they’re all dead and replaced with a generation brought up connected. Until then, there’s no way I’m getting a Facebook profile.

  9. Tux, I don’t mean to keep challenging you, because I agree with much of what you say. But I need to challenge you on that last bit about the old men and the connected generation; remember that Mark Zuckerberg IS from the young, connected generation! He’s 23 for pete’s sake!

    What kids like him don’t have is the benefit of wisdom and experience. You can be Facebooked and Myspaced up the wazoo, but if you don’t have a bit of wisdom and experience about what works, what doesn’t work, what’s right, and what’s wrong, then you’re going to keep on doing Zukerbergisms like this.

    No, really! I’m not surprised that Facebook did this; they have a history of complete disregard for online safety and privacy. For example, the first thing I saw when I joined Facebook (actually, it was in the PROCESS of joining), was a requrest not only for my email address, but for its LOGIN NAME AND PASSWORD!

    WTF??? As if!

    But many people do provide that information, primarily because they simply don’t know any better. But that’s where people like us, who DO know better (because we’ve had the benefit of a longer and more varied experience than a 15 year old) come in. We have a responsibility to complain about eggregious crap like Beacon.

    The worse thing we can do is just roll over and take it. If it’s wrong, we should SAY so, and we should say WHY.

    That’s how the web gets better.

    That said, what really surprises me is that all those other companies, presumably run by older and wiser people, just went along with Beacon!

  10. blork . . . misunderstanding in my tone I guess – yes, I do agree with you . . . in fact, we are in agreement on the issue you raise in your response to me as well . . . my comment was predicated on an accepted belief that the web is pervasive and growing in its pervasiveness more each day.

    My comments about opt in, were based on the my belief that any site that doesn’t operate under an opt in philosophy takes away the users choice – and therefore marks itself for extinction . . . ever read the book “Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug . . . the logical extension on this particular issue is – “don’t make me have to opt out” . . .

    I also disagree with Tux’ idea that I can’t expect a site to treat the “data me” with respect . . . they damn well better begin and end with protecting my data . . . in a day and age where anyone can blog and begin a viral dialogue in regards to a site or its misuse of personal data, any site who fancies itself a place where people want to be is going to protect my personal data . . .

    While Internet law isn’t much more than a glimmer in eye of lawyers at this point – there will be a growing demand for responsible action by sites, whether they are commercial or provide social space . . .

    Sorry about the initial misunderstanding . . .

  11. I concede on the old white men. :) You certainly don’t need to be an older person to not have a good understanding of the ‘net. That part of my comments I think is largely indicative of my frustration. The people who have the most power to make good decisions and set precedents in this area routinely screw us. My personal belief is that they won’t stop willingly because screwing us can be very profitable. (See RIAA, MPAA, etc) It’s with that in mind that I say that, at this point, we cannot /expect/ our personal information to be treated respectfully. Each and every one of us takes a risk when we give our personal information away. I think my original point was that people should be made aware of that risk and of the virtues of trying to stay off the radar.

    Thinking it over, your way (actively talking) would probably be more effective in achieving the goal of an internet where a certain level of privacy is a legal standard and can be assumed by most people filling in a website registration form, than my way of simply trying to be careful who I share my details with. I think originally I just wanted you to concede that yeah, Beacon sucks and is a lousy idea, but we’re at the very least not yet at a point where Facebook is truly necessary for most of us to get along. We don’t have to sign up in the first place, and if you don’t sign up, you don’t get screwed.

    This part is purely my opinion/rant but who really needs Facebook? What makes it so great? It doesn’t do anything that I couldn’t already do with the tools I had! I personally feel it’s just yet another manufactured need. We ought to be teaching people how to set up their own home servers and publish their own content rather than relying on some dubious third party who can legally appropriate your family pictures for the purposes of advertising.

    Finally, thanks for responding to me and defending your ideas. I feel I have a more rounded outlook on this issue than when we started!

  12. Blork, you say, “I agree that you can simply choose to not use Facebook, but that’s a cop out. The reality is that social networking is huge, and it’s not going away any time soon.”

    Socialogy 101 is all about “reality is your perception”. Can we agree on that? O.K.

    My perception is that that Facebook is wrong… The arguements for and against have been presented. Some are good, some are bad. I still look at your statement and think..

    Whether or not “social networking” is huge, it cannot justify the existence of Facebook simply by default.

    It was “social networking” when Gloop from the Crump tribe showed Clumph from the Shtoomp tribe how to light a fire through grunts and attempts to share knowledge and language many, many years back. They did it, just because, and nobody was asking if they minded if someone would be in touch with them from the “Save the Mastadon” foundation. Gloop liked the way the glow from the volcano highlighted the bridge of Clumph’s nose… and that he didn’t beat him up like the other Crumps, that’s all.

    A picture of him in the backrow back in little caveman school or a list of his favorite ways to beat a tree to make music like the Rolling Stones would not have made it any difference unless…

    …you’re telling me that the people who cluster to and revel in Facebook are the kinds of people who are hell-bent on discovering and sharing the modern day equivilant of discovering, controlling and sharing fire.

  13. Harry, I’m not sure how to approach that…

    Let’s start with Facebook itself. Keep in mind that there’s Facebook, and there’s Beacon. I don’t think there’s anything inherently “wrong” with Facebook — it’s just a platform for having fun and staying in touch with people. The problems I have are with how some aspects of Facebook are implemented, such as the Beacon advertising platform. (I also have problems with some of the “viral” aspects, such as the request for email passwords and the way the various applications within Facebook spam other members, but again, that’s an implementation issue).

    I can totally understand the attraction of Facebook. Basically, it’s just plain fun. It’s like blogging but without the work and the writing. It’s a big virtual interconnectedy thingy that’s like Flicker and blogs and YouTube and Friendster all rolled into one, with virtually no learning curve and no need for any effort or committment. But most of all, it’s fun.

    That’s a bit different from your cavemen. In their case, they gathered for reasons that were USEFUL. Discovering, controlling, and sharing fire would be a pretty useful thing if you’re a caveman.

    And there are some aspects of that in Facebook. The platform is open enough that you can use it however you like. I’m sure there are people in there who actually do useful things and share useful information. In fact, in its original incarnation, Facebook was very useful for students to keep track of events on campus and to see who’s going to what function, where the parties are, etc.

    But now Facebook is mostly a bunch of noise and spam (the worse kind of spam — spam that comes from your friends). But for a lot of people Facebook is a lot of fun. For me it is a bit of fun sometimes, but mostly just a bunch of clutter and noise, which is why I’m not very active in there.

  14. How to avoid email spam: stop using email.

    How to avoid urban panhandlers: stop going downtown.

    How to avoid advertising at the cinema: stop going to the cinema.

    How to avoid badly written books: stop reading books.

    How to avoid toenail infections: chop off your toes.

    Irving, some people like using Facebook. The solution is not to run away from things that infect the things you like, but to confront them and push them away.

  15. Great post and interesting discussion (I especially like the advice on how to avoid badly written books….)

    You make a very good point about the founder of Facebook and his age, and the age of many of the users of Facebook. (No thought for future ramifications!) What I have find completely fascinating is the amount of information that people post on Facebook — one person who works/teaches at a local university apparently has no privacy levels set – her students can get her drunken bikini pictures if they flip through her flickr account (the link is on her profile). This person is in her late 20s or early 30s, establishing a career — and looking like a complete idiot for all to see.

    Another person I know of, one of those with 500+ “friends” put out a “suicide call” on her account. You can follow the timeline of her postings and those of her concerned friends— within 30 minutes she put out another message “thanks everyone for your support, I feel much better now”. As a potential employer for this girl, I find the fact that I could find this information about her just a wee bit alarming.

    Actually, that’s what I find the most appalling – seeing people my age (30-ish) with apparently no thought put into the professional implications of what they are posting on the internet!

  16. Facebook took off in my opinion due to them initially allowing users to control who sees what and how much on the site. Unfortunately they are veering away from that as the potential for ad revenue goes up.

    Beacon is one of a number of “opt out” features that concern me and others with regards to the social networking site’s privacy considerations. Another area of concern to me are the applications they are now employing.

    Facebook was fun in my last couple years in college, but I think I am going to start migrating more towards more professional social networking sites like linkedin.

  17. “Just because I bought the book does not mean I endorse it or the retailer”

    At the very least, you think the book is worth buying, either for yourself or for someone else, and you think that the particular retailer is worth buying from.

    The thing I’m curious about is how Beacon can publish anything about me without my having told Facebook about my accounts on other websites (or vise versa). In my case it’s easy, as I’m the only one with my name on there, but otherwise either I have to opt in or the external sites and Facebook have to share some info to make a guess. The latter option is pretty freaky.

  18. Greg, you’re incorrect. I might be buying the book as a gift for someone else, or on request from someone else who for some reason can’t do so him/herself (e.g., no Amazon account). Or maybe I hate Amazon but buy there reluctantly based only on price, or perhaps it’s the only source for the item I’m buying.

    In any case, it should be up to ME to decide if I’m going to endorse something. It’s not up to some pile of cookies in my browser cache to make those decisions for me.

    BTW, that’s the answer to your question; it’s the magic of browser cookies. When website A has a cookie that is capable of talking to website B’s cookie, then talk they will.

    Tux, copyright is a huge and complicated issue. I’m not up to speed on this one, but I’ll certainly read into it.

    The short answer is that governments (virtually all governments) have proven themselves repeatedly to be utterly incapable of understanding issues of copyright, particularly as it pertains to the Internet. So my knee-jerk reaction is to be against anything the government proposes. But so far it’s just that; a knee-jerk reaction.

  19. First, thank you Blork for posting the instructions on how to turn off Beacon. I agree it isn’t exactly clear and while I had checked that box, it wasn’t till now that I confirmed that included Beacon.

    While some of the posters here make good points about the Internet being “opt-in” and no one forcing us to use Facebook, the fact is people very much ARE being forced more and more to interact with the Web. From stores that no longer bring in the selection of product they used to, in the process driving people to places like Amazon, to webservices like Second Life which are now being used by some companies to hold meetings and do real business, to high-def DVD players and Windows operating systems that don’t even work unless they’re connected to the Net … it’s becoming harder and harder to “opt out” of the Internet which is why abuses (and I call it an abuse) such as the Facebook fiasco (which has resulted in me all but abandoning my account there) concern me more and more.

    And don’t even get me started on the privacy trainwreck-in-the-making that is Web 2.0 (which is, as I understand it, the next gen Internet which is supposed to replace our hard drives in a few years, forcing us to keep our private information online.). Maybe the problem is we’re a transitional generation, and the kids now in diapers will be the ones who grow up used to the idea that there is no privacy anymore and the idea of everyone knowing the books we buy or the travel tickets we purchase won’t bug them in the slightest. Are we dinosaurs?

  20. Alex, it’s true that more and more stuff is being done online, including the running of applications and even the storage of primary files. I’m no fan of that, personally. When I write something, or edit photos, or whatever, I want to do that locally, on my machine. It’s not because I’m old fashioned and don’t understand the new way of doing it. It’s because I don’t TRUST the new way of doing it. That includes everything from the software application vendors to the servers where the files are stored to the internet connection itself. Too many variables. I’ve been in the software business for more than 15 years, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that nothing related to software can ever be fully trusted, and the newer a thing is, the less reliable it is.

    But that’s a whole other rant (and it’s coming, in a future post). But the Web 2.0 you speak of is something else. That’s simply the idea of user-generated and shared content. Things like Flickr, Digg, and other Web sites where the content is created by the users are what Web 2.0 is all about. We’re in the middle of it right now, and for the most part it’s pretty cool. Even this blog is pretty much a Web 2.0 thing.

    Hmmm. As I wrote that, I realized that WordPress, the application I use to make this blog, is hosted on a server (not my machine). All the posts, including my drafts, are also on that machine. When I write, I write through the WordPress interface, not in a local appliction to be “cut & pasted” later. So in a sense it’s true that Web 2.0 includes some of the stuff you mention, but the jist of it is user-generated and shared content (whether or not it was originally created on your local machine).

    Oh, one other thing; yes, we are a transitional generation. But I would bump things up a bit. It’s not the kids in diapers who will grow up with no sense of online privacy; it’s the kids who are already in high school.

  21. “I might be buying the book as a gift for someone else”
    Then you think the book makes a good gift.

    “on request from someone else who for some reason can’t do so him/herself”
    You’re endorsing someone else’s decision to buy it.

    “based only on price”
    You admit that that merchant has the best price.

    “the only source for the item I’m buying”
    If you want to buy this item, this is the place to do it.

    These aren’t very strong endorsements to be sure, but in every case just by going through with the transaction, no matter what details are, there must be some reason in your head that makes it a good idea. If you were really against buying whatever item from whatever store, you wouldn’t do it at all.

  22. Greg, your logic is very weak.

    >>“I might be buying the book as a gift for someone else”
    >>Then you think the book makes a good gift.

    Yes, , a good gift, but that doesn’t mean I like the book. The book might suck. I might loathe the book and never want to be associated with it. But if my grandma really wants it, I’ll buy it for her.

    >>“on request from someone else who for some reason can’t do so him/herself”
    >>You’re endorsing someone else’s decision to buy it.

    No, I’m just doing someone a favor. Maybe my grandma really wants the book but she’s housebound and she can’t figure out how to shop on the Internet. So she asks me to get it for her. It so happens that adding it to my shopping cart puts me over $39, so shipping is free. OK, I reluctantly buy it for her. That doesn’t mean I like the book or want to endorse it, nor my grandma’s decision to buy it.

    >>“based only on price”
    >>You admit that that merchant has the best price.

    Sure. But that doesn’t mean I want to stand up and endorse the merchant (and not even get paid for it). I might loathe the merchant, but due to personal financial constraints I go against principle and buy it from him. It doesn’t mean I want to advertise to all my friends that I’m patronizing a merchant that I’m known to hate.

    >>“the only source for the item I’m buying”
    >>If you want to buy this item, this is the place to do it.

    So what? Since when does buying something from a merchant automatically make you an unpaid ambassador for the merchant?

    >>These aren’t very strong endorsements to be sure, but in every case
    >>just by going through with the transaction, no matter what details
    >>are, there must be some reason in your head that makes it a good idea.
    >>If you were really against buying whatever item from whatever store,
    >>you wouldn’t do it at all.

    Again, you are completely missing the point. The point is, and I will repeat myself, the fact that I buy something from a merchant does not mean I give consent to be an unpaid shill for that merchant. It is up to me to decide if I want to endorse something or someone; it is not up to Facebook, nor the merchant.

    The examples I give above are not obscure, one-in-a-million circumstances. There is nothing rare or unusual about those scenarios. That’s how stuff really happens.

    Hey, the fact that you’ve come here at least twice to comment on this blog does not give me the right to take out an ad that says “GREG P ENDORSES THE BLORK BLOG!” Maybe you do endorse it. Maybe you think it’s the best blog you’ve ever seen. Or maybe you’re an investor in Facebook and you’re really pissed that I’m criticizing it. In either case, I don’t assume the right to take your participation here and spin it into an advertisement/endorsement! Would you not agree?

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