Facebook's Beacon ad programme tracks non-users across the web


In November 2007, Facebook launched Beacon, an advertising programme that allowed third-party sites to include a script that passed Facebook notifications about users' activities on their sites such as purchases, auction bids, reviews, and game-playing. The service as originally designed offered no opportunity to opt out, and a public outcry ensued; many people did not want their activities broadcast automatically to all their Friends. Users also soon found that Beacon transmitted information from all users of the third-party sites signed up to Beacon - which at the launch included Overstock.com, Blockbuster, eBay, and Sony Entertainment - whether or not they were current or former Facebook members and whether or not they had opted out. Facebook claimed it deleted the data if it could not be associated with a Facebook member. The resulting public outcry led Facebook to quickly add the ability to opt out of some parts of Beacon, but many struggled to access these options. A MoveOn.org petition and Facebook quickly gained 50,000 members. California resident Sean Lane filed a class action suit against Facebook on behalf of all affected Facebook users. The settlement reached in 2012 required Facebook to donate $9.5 million to set up a privacy foundation designed to educate users and terminate the Beacon programme. 
tags: Facebook, Beacon, advertising, tracking, opt out, settlements, lawsuit
writer: Jacqui Cheng, Juan Carlos Perez and Nancy Gohring, David Kravets
publication: Ars Technica, ComputerWorld, Wired

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