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Facebook Axes "Beacon," Donates $9.5M To Settle Suit 71

alphadogg sends in a Network World piece that begins "Facebook has agreed to shut down a program that sparked a lawsuit alleging privacy violations, and set up a $9.5M fund for a nonprofit foundation that will support online privacy, safety, and security. The lawsuit centers around Facebook's Beacon program, which let third-party Web sites distribute 'stories' about users to Facebook. Beacon was launched in November 2007 and less than a year later plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit 'alleging that Facebook and its affiliates did not give users adequate notice and choice about Beacon and the collection and use of users' personal information.' ... Facebook never admitted wrongdoing but as part of a proposed settlement the company began sending notices to Facebook users this week. The settlement provides no compensation directly to users who receive the notice. Facebook users can opt out of the settlement, and should do so if they wish to pursue further legal action against Facebook related to the Beacon program. 'If you choose to do nothing and remain in the settlement class, you will be legally bound by the settlement,' a FAQ on the settlement Web site says. "By doing nothing, you will be giving up the right to sue Facebook and the other Defendants over claims related to or arising out of the Beacon program.'" Other defendents included Blockbuster, Fandango,,, and Gamefly. Neither the article nor the settlement site mentions what part, if any, they play in the settlement.
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Facebook Axes "Beacon," Donates $9.5M To Settle Suit

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  • by mugnyte ( 203225 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @09:04PM (#30372872) Journal

      Your questions are common to this situation, but I believe it comes down to the control over the online persona, as it is used on each site individually - and sharing to another without your knowledge or permission. If you post something here on slashdot, would you want the opinions, language, tone or anything else discernible from your specific writing to be used at another site you browsed?

      The "AC" capability of the web is an ever-growing facade, so having a vendor reveal each little piece to other vendors is the next hurdle of privacy.

      At it's ultimate consolidation, something you put online would be uncontrollably linked to whatever online persona you presented elsewhere, simply from having all entities agree to share data based on IP, etc.

    So perhaps your shopping history is available to readers of your amazon reviews, your browser home page is listed in the sig of your email, or the top news sites you visit are listed in your LinkedIn profile. This would be jarring to most people.

  • by trentblase ( 717954 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @09:06PM (#30372902)
    Did the settlement notification email set off anyone else's "phishing spider sense"? The email was sent from "" -- why not send it from
  • Re:Silly (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @09:15PM (#30372970)
    It depends on your feelings of privacy. Myself I tend to give out a decent amount of information to my Facebook friends because the vast majority of them either A) are trusted friends or B) random strangers who I might never meet in my life. However, beacon is a bad thing for a lot of people who might need privacy or who have Facebook-stalking loved ones who may jump to conclusions. Think about it this way, you are on a business trip and decide to order at an upscale restaurant for just you because you like the food, yet your Facebook-stalking wife/girlfriend sees a beacon post about your reservation and thinks that you -clearly- are seeing someone other than her and no one would ever eat at an upscale restaurant just by themselves and clearly your business trip you are on is simply a front for you to cheat on her. And yes, stuff like this does happen. If you are lucky enough like some people (like you and me) not to have friends who don't trust you, but some people are unlucky enough to have situations like this.
  • by TxRv ( 1662461 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @09:36PM (#30373096)
    maybe I wouldn't have opted out as soon as I figured out what Beacon was ;-P
  • by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @09:52PM (#30373224) Journal

    So you think ordering something from a website - perhaps using a secure page - now counts as "publish info in the internet about themselves" and it's therefore fair game for them to broadcast that to all and sundry without your consent?

  • by PyroMosh ( 287149 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:18AM (#30374302) Homepage

    'PyroMosh purchased the Deluxe 12" Ass-Ramming Dildo from Anal Enterprises'

    Have you been reading my facebook? I have to remember to set that to private.

    Seriously, though I gravely misunderstood what this beacon was. I thought it was just some API hooks that would let advertisers run queries against facebook posts presumably to deliver targeted ads or some other such nonsense. I had no idea it was what it was.

    That said, from what I understand, it uses a cookie to identify one's ID. Since the cookie only contains user ID data, and logging in is not necessary, would it not have been possible (even trivial) to forge activity history for any arbitrary facebook user? As long as you know their ID, you can have them purchase the 'Deluxe 12" Ass-Ramming Dildo from Anal Enterprises' as many times as you please.

    Too bad [] this beacon thing [] isn't around [] any more [].

  • Re:Silly (Score:2, Interesting)

    by L33tminion ( 908158 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @04:36AM (#30375118) Homepage

    the two accounts were not linked in any way [email address, openID, et cetera] except for having the same name on record.

    Having the same name on record had nothing to do with it. Yelp was forwarding the information to a page on Facebook, which used the cookies stored in your browser to see which account was logged in (same as how when you log in to Facebook, go elsewhere online, and then return, it knows which account is logged in and doesn't ask you to log in again).

    That aside, you've got it right. The problem with Beacon (in it's original implementation) was that it did unexpected stuff without the user's consent.

  • by hopkid ( 756933 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @06:29AM (#30375530)
    I was once amused to discover that I had been entitled to a few dollars for seeing a sony movie that was falsely advertised, as well as for buying a dvd that wasn't cropped properly. I too didn't collect on my bounty.

    To me, the purpose of such settlements isn't necessarily to benefit me, the wronged consumer, for past transgressions by the offender. It is to prevent offensive behavior in the future, which will benefit me in the future, as I won't be subject to such offenses then.

    This does seem weird, though, as the stakes are somewhat different for individuals/people, who face jail time for such offenses. If Madoff can pay off his debts, shouldn't we let him continue as a stockbroker, as long as he ensures that he will act within the confines of the law?

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain