Felt like I needed to do something different last Saturday. Didn’t want to work on the house, didn’t want to work on the computer, too cold for hiking… decided to make a double batch of beef stew. Decided to save it to my “recipe box,” which required setting up an Epicurious account. Little did I know that a few minutes later, half the people I know would know that I was a new Epicurious user, via Facebook.
Been hearing a lot about Facebook’s Beacon functionality over the past week, but it felt utterly yicky to get Beacon’d myself. Not that my chosen beef stew recipe was any great secret, but didn’t expect that a simple account signup was world news.
If I had known that Epicurious was one of Facebook’s 44 Beacon partners, I probably wouldn’t have done it. If there was an interface cue warning me about it, I probably looked past it. We’re so used to whipping quickly through such mundane tasks that we don’t exactly read our EULAs or every word on every page we visit. And Beacon is apparently even more insidious than it appears on the surface:
According to the researcher, Facebook’s Beacon tracked the activities of users even if they had logged off from Facebook and had declined the option of having their activities on other sites broadcast back to their friends.
Controversy over Beacon is swelling by the minute, but apparently Facebook isn’t alone in the practice. There may be a silver lining to the mess:
The controversy raised by the social networking site’s use of the Beacon technology has helped drag into the open the widespread but hitherto largely hidden problem of online consumer-tracking and information-sharing, according to privacy advocates. “This Facebook debacle is in one way very good, because it shows people just what is happening,” said Pam Dixon executive director of the World Privacy Forum. “There are other sites and other places where very similar data arrangements exist, but it is all happening under the radar and people simply don’t realize it.”
I feel gross all over. But the beef stew came out great.
Update: Facebook caves, will allow users to turn off Beacon.