This morning, in response to the complaints from privacy advocates that have been well-documented in recent weeks, Facebook added a Beacon preference to allow users to universally opt-out of Beacon. Now, if users globally opt-out, no information sent to Facebook from Beacon partners will be retained. This means that those most concerned with their privacy will be able to control whether Facebook knows anything about what they do on the rest of the web.
This morning’s announcement was the first time Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally responded to the Beacon press disaster. He’s owning the way Facebook handled things, which is a good move:
About a month ago, we released a new feature called Beacon to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web. We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. While I am disappointed with our mistakes, we appreciate all the feedback we have received from our users. I’d like to discuss what we have learned and how we have improved Beacon.
… It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.
Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information. This is what makes Facebook a good utility, and in order to be a good feature, Beacon also needs to do the same. 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…
Personally, I still believe that very few people outside the Techmeme Radius are likely to ever have any significant level of concern about Beacon. As Jay Meattle notes, traffic to Facebook’s privacy page hasn’t grown meaningfully at all since the PR melee started.
Facebook could have probably gotten away with just creating a universal opt-out instead of making Beacon opt-in. That change made Beacon a lot less powerful for partners: now there are going to be much, much fewer Beacon-generated News Feed items. It’s a lot safer, but it’s also pretty neutered.