Commentary

Just An Online Minute... Facebook Apologizes For Major Faux Pas

After weeks of criticism, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Wednesday finally apologized for the controversial Beacon program, which publishes information about members' off-site purchases to their friends. The company also changed the program so that people can now opt-out once and for all.

But yesterday's developments might prove to be too little, too late to satisfy privacy advocates and/or disgruntled users of the site.

At launch, the program publicized information about people's purchases unless they specifically told Facebook not to do so. In other words, the program shared information by default.

This idea is so staggeringly bad that even now, four weeks later, it's still astounding that Facebook ever went ahead with it.

And now that Facebook seems to have realized the mistake, it's not clear what the long-term effects will be. While Facebook's members show no signs of abandoning the site, the company clearly has squandered at least some goodwill.

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What's more, Facebook's timing with the original launch also couldn't have been worse, given that the Federal Trade Commission only days before held meetings about whether some current ad strategies endanger people's privacy. In fact, Facebook's original envelope-pushing program clearly illustrates how online ad techniques can result in private information becoming public.

Even now that the program has been changed, advocates, regulators and legislators are likely to remember how quickly privacy can disappear online.

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