Beacon concerns, like News Feed concerns of a year ago, will fade

This week there has been a lot of hoopla in the press regarding the privacy implications of Facebook’s new Beacon program.

Beacon is a way for businesses to let their customers “share the actions they take on your website with their Facebook friends.” In other words, it’s a new way for Facebook users to log and broadcast their outside-of-Facebook online activity inside Facebook.

The chief privacy concern raised by MoveOn is that Beacon is opt-out, not opt-in. (Dave McClure walks through the user experience for those who haven’t seen it themselves.)

However, as many will remember from the days of yore (September 2006), similar privacy concerns were raised when Facebook turned on the News Feed itself for the first time. There was even a group called Students Against the Facebook News Feed that grew to 750,000 members (about 100 times the number currently in the group petitioning against Beacon).

Nevertheless, a funny thing happened on the way to the protest: everyone realized how valuable the News Feed was and stopped complaining. And the same thing is going to happen this time around for the same reason.

The bottom line is most people want to be in their friends’ attention stream. Whether that is offline or on Facebook or off Facebook, people want their real friends to know what is going on in their lives. Because most people have built their Facebook friend network to accurately reflect their “real life” friend network, most people will not have a problem sharing some new types of activities (that happen to occur off with their friends. Instead, they’ll probably like it a lot, and find it a valuable addition to both their News Feed and their own Mini Feeds.

Personally, I’m glad MoveOn is making a stink about Beacon; activists play an important role in any social system – curtailing abuse. However, I think they will find that most Facebook users don’t share their level of concern.