The internet has evolved to a point where there is almost no information you can’t find about someone if you really want it. Enter a phone number in some search engines for example and you can get a home address.
Over the years there have been many advances in technology which over time have raised concern by privacy advocates. Toolbars which track websites a user visits — like those supplied by Alexa (now a division of Amazon), scared some in the nineties. A few years back, fears were raised when Google announced their new Gmail e-mail service would have the company’s computers “read” e-mails and match ads based on keywords in a message.
The latest privacy controversy has to do with social networking and in particular, Facebook. The massively popular service has in fact recently started to allow purchases by users to be shared with other users on the network via something called Beacon. Moreover, advertisers can supply messages which can be disseminated with the purchase information of others in a person’s network.
At first blush, this is a logical way for Facebook to make money. The controversy surrounding this practice stems from the service being defaulted to the on position and what some would say is not enough notification that purchases will be shared with others.
The concerns many people raise is that some of their purchases may be personal and as such a user may not want this information shared.
What are some of the solutions to this dilemma?
1) Have Beacon default to off.
2) Allow each purchase to be shared on an individual basis.
3) Have a recommendation engine which tries to distinguish what someone may want to buy based on not only their friends in the network but others with similar tastes and backgrounds
Another idea which comes to mind is to anonymously alert a user that one of their friends has purchased something. The problem here is, it may be easy to deduce who in your network made the purchase. Number 3 above seems to be the best way to achieve the spirit of this idea.
I commend Facebook on trying something new and perhaps inventing “Advertising 2.0” but Beacon needs improvement and if the company doesn’t make some adjustments soon I fear a privacy backlash against many other internet companies as well.
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