Facebook's Beacon Prompts Calls for Government Action

Dec 03, 2007
Nicole A. Ozer

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

Last week we blogged about the problems with Facebook's new "Beacon" web tracking and ad delivery system. We also discussed the insufficient changes Facebook has made to the system since its introduction.

Controversy surrounding the intrusive Beacon program continues to grow. Over the past few days, several news outlets have reported that Facebook continues to receive web activity information from partnered websites even when a user does his best to prevent it.

The San Jose Mercury News published an editorial criticizing Facebook for implementing Beacon and calling on Congress and other policy-makers to "get up to speed on what's happening and decide if stronger protections are needed" to protect consumers online.

A growing number of voices are urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Congress to set rules governing the tracking and targeting of consumers online. In November, the FTC held a Town Hall meeting entitled "Behavioral Advertising: Tracking, Targeting, and Technology." The event brought together technology experts, industry, privacy groups, consumer advocates and academics to address "consumer protection issues raised by the practice of tracking consumers' activities online to target advertising - or 'behavioral advertising.'"

You can find transcripts and streaming video from the meeting here.

In preparation for the Town Hall meeting, representatives from privacy groups formulated and submitted a document to the FTC detailing principles and recommendations for protecting consumers from online tracking and invasive advertising. Among the recommendations is that the FTC create a "do not track" list similar to the popular federal "do not call" registry. Such a list would cover online tracking for which there is no opt-out provision, such as Facebook's Beacon.

The latest advertising initiative from Facebook is just another example of how the FTC's endorsement in 2000 of industry self-r egulation, in the form of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), is woefully failing to protect consumers. The NAI is entirely voluntary and many consumer tracking programs just elect not to participate.

Some real safeguards are needed at this this time to adequately protect privacy online.