Following up on Facebook's social ads debacle

Facebook appear to have given in to pressure over the debacle I wrote about a few days ago. According to their announcement:

Users must click on “OK” in a new initial notification on their Facebook home page before the first Beacon story is published to their friends from each participating site. 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.

That’s definitely progress and will assuage the fears of many users. Unfortunately, as the unofficial facebook blog points out they are still storing data on your shopping preferences, even if they’re not displaying them. You can get around that by changing various settings in your web browser, but there’s no easy way to opt out.

Reactions around the web have been mixed: Some are advocating quitting facebook entirely (or as close to entirely as is possible, you cannot completely delete your account), while others continue to question whether most facebook users are concerned.

I quite like the idea that if facebook are going to use advertising they should target it based on what I’ve told them are my interests and who I’ve identified as my friends. So far, they’re doing a pretty poor job of that as I’ve yet to see an advert on there that interests me, but that’s data I’ve consciously given to them, and it’s my responsibility to moderate that if necessary. The problem is when I may be giving them more data than I realise because of who their partners are. That’s not an entirely new situation for the web —think of all the sites operated by yahoo or google — but so far it’s at least been limited to sites within specific networks.

For those who use facebook socially, it’s well worth considering how much you want facebook (and their investors) to know about you and what measures you can take to limit that if necessary. For those using facebook for promotion it’s well worth considering what your audience’s reaction is likely to be to this situation, to be clear about how you’re using data gathered from facebook, and to think very carefully about these issues before touching the social ads system.

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