Saturday, December 1, 2007

Column, Dec. 1 2007

How Facebook almost ruined Christmas


Facebook.com almost ruined Christmas.

Now that’s a crazy idea. Who’s pushing it? Bill O’Reilly on Fox News? John Gibson, who’s also on Fox News? Not sure who but placing the safe bet on someone from Fox News?

Try MoveOn.org.

I kid you not.

MoveOn.org, the progressive activist group that right-wingers love to hate, recently took on the popular social networking site. The group objected to Facebook’s new Beacon advertising feature, saying it went over the line, invading personal privacy.

The nuts and bolts: Whenever you purchase something on an affiliated Web site, Beacon updates your Facebook profile, showing your purchase. All your friends can see that shiny new engagement ring you wanted to surprise your girlfriend with on Christmas day and ... doh! ... she’s on your Facebook friends list, too.

Think this could be a problem while shopping for the holidays, erm, I mean Christmas? Facebook members who signed MoveOn’s petition did.

MoveOn didn’t slap the “Grinch” label on Facebook outright. It just included comments from Facebook users to that effect in its e-mails asking people to sign a petition against Beacon. Pretty clever.

Initially, Facebook users could only opt out of Beacon on a store-by-store basis, but you couldn’t opt out completely. But late this week, Facebook said it won’t send messages about its users’ purchases without getting approval each time, according to the New York Times.

MoveOn representatives told the paper they’re keeping an eye on the changes. They leave open the possibility of continuing to push for a universal “opt-out” if they don’t like what they see.

Before the change, Facebook representatives argued in a New York Times article that only friends of the Facebook user can see this information, so it wasn’t a big deal. After all, Facebook is a very intimate affair. I mean, all of my 80 friends is someone I will know and cherish until the day I die. If the guy who sat by me in my college chemistry lab needs something, he knows I’m there for him. What was his name again? Doug?

A MoveOn spokesman told the New York Times they were trying to save the Facebook from itself. The spokesman worried users will leave the site out of privacy concerns. (With the bullhorn of a MoveOn rabble rouser behind them, no doubt.)

I’m no fan of deceptive advertising, but I don’t think MoveOn had much of case. Facebook is not their Web site to save and users routinely leave their privacy concerns at the door. Humiliating pictures of you drunk and in drag going up all over the place are OK. But seeing the crappy gift you bought your co-worker for “Secret Santa” at Amazon.com goes too far.

Facebook didn’t owe users anything. It’s a business and its users, whether they like it or not, are the product. They don’t pay anything to use the service but are generating revenue in a very real way.

I think Facebook did the right thing, even though it didn’t have to. It is Christmas after all.

But when you’re standing up for a cause, please leave Christmas out of it, or O’Reilly is going to show up at your door.

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