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Facebook CEO capitulates (again) on Beacon

Mea culpa

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has issued a mea culpa to his 56 million users, saying he failed to give them the ability to control the personal information that is shared with others. He also announced a new switch that with one flip allows people to completely turn off the feature, which is dubbed Beacon.

"We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for that," Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. "People need to be able to explicitly choose what they share, and they need to be able to turn Beacon off completely if they don't want to use it."

The contraption was a thinly veiled attempt by Facebook, whose $15bn valuation rivals that of Ford Motor Co., to boost revenue by turning its users into walking billboards. By automatically sending information on users’ web purchases to their friends unless they went through the hassle of blocking the report, Bacon - as it could more aptly be called - promised to seriously improve Facebook's appeal among advertising execs.

Instead, Zuckerberg's adventure in advertising 2.0 generated howls of protest from privacy advocates who said users didn't necessarily want orders for bongs or anal beads being broadcast to all their friends. Facebook, not wanting to drop the goose that might lay the golden egg, relinquished, but only a tiny bit: It changed Bacon to an opt-in system, but only on a per-site basis. Users who didn't want purchases broadcast to their friends had to block the feature for each participating site they did business with.

So effective today, Facebook is giving users the control to block reporting altogether. Even still, it's not clear that Facebook has entirely gotten the message. Sites that participate in Bacon may still phone back to Zuckerberg and company about purchases made by Facebook users who haven't opted in to the system. Facebook is promising only not to store the information.

Lord only knows what kind of wiggle room that leaves execs charged with justifying a stratospheric valuation. Even more worrying, given previous security glitches at Facebook, how are we to know information won't be pilfered by miscreants? ®

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