Dare to Share? What’s Your Beacon Story? (part 2)

facebook-beacon.gifMy prankster friends love to pull my chain. I wish Facebook’s beacon was one of their many gotchas. But it’s not.

After writing the behavioral profiling article on kids, reading the update on beacon from Facebook’s reply, seeing the backlash surge from 0-45,000 members in 8 days, and hearing Ideashower’s post was viewed 80,000 times, I should’ve seen this corker coming…

I received this FB “terms of use” video on privacy issues, several pings on the “What’s Your Beacon Story?” prompt, and should’ve been primed for this…

…A VERY dire warning about my Ca. Driver’s License being online via database registry housing the National Motor Vehicle License Bureau, along with a note, “whoa, Aim, you’ll want to opt-out of this one fast; here’s the URL, you’ll see yourself splashed right on the page…ugh, so much for homeland security”)

Psyche. I remember now that this was internet tripe from awhile back making the rounds again, but here’s the thing, it’s so dang relevant that it really DID suck me into the vortex of gullibility in a “Is it real or is it Memorex” moment…

I mean, c’mon…kids play these internet pranks on me all the time (the ‘scream’ screens, and amusing trickery like the ‘virtual soulmate’ site that REALLY was clever, I’ll do a roundup of kids’ finds soon) but alas, Facebook’s beacon is no joke with firsthand blurbs attesting to user experiences.

Marika Schaub launched the thread with this:

“I feel like I am spying on my friends with Beacon – it’s creepy and I don’t like it. In the past few days, I have learned through my newsfeed the following:

— the movies in my friend’s queue at Blockbuster
— which kid friendly restaurants another friend researched on Yelp
— the recipes my colleague saved on Epicurious.com
— the movie another colleague purchased tickets to go see through Fandango”

Anyone else feel the same way? Or have had something go onto your newsfeed that you didn’t want there?”

Reply by Megan Olsen:

“My boyfriend was playing a game earlier today and he only knew that Facebook had told everyone about it because I asked him if he knew that it was on my news feed this evening.

It was an anonymous site that he had not given any personal information to, and he had not seen anything letting him opt out of the Facebook display. Obviously you don’t need to give personal information to the site for beacon to work, but it seems wrong for a mostly anonymous action to suddenly become relatively public.

Good thing his advisor isn’t one of his Facebook friends! (“Playing games at work, eh?”) He went through privacy settings to remove it, but so far it’s still there….we’ll see how long it takes to be deleted…”

Reply by Sandi Solow:

“I found out about Beacon the hard way – when I viewed my profile and found my Zappos purchase as a news feed item. I was creeped out when I discovered this had been blasted to all of my friends. Here’s my blog: I’ve chronicled the experience, including a response from Zappos.”

Reply by Edward Vielmetti

“Hotwire and Beacon and I had an encounter. I was disappointed that the observed behavior from Hotwire was way different from their stated privacy policy (or at least my reading of the privacy policy, or at least the words in bold print).”

And my all time-favorite reply so far, by Ann Douglas, who pithily is documenting the lightening speed of the beacon beastie,

“At any moment, my friends should be notified that I was looking at George: The Timeless Art of Seduction at AllPosters.com (From Seinfeld) at AllPosters.com

I turned my back on my computer in order to talk a family member and when I looked back, there was a note saying Facebook had been notified of my activity. It was that fast.

I’m test-driving the system and writing on an article about it.”

Sigh. Well, my ‘Beacon experience’ was mostly about just removing it.

I used the instructions I’d posted and ended up leaving a thank you on IdeaShower’s two week update post saying, “Ok, I’ve disabled the beacon, albeit w/several ‘restarts’ which begs the question, what about the poor neophytes (kids/youth…or more likely, ADULTS) that can’t find your handy how-tos & screenshots and are stuck as opt-in hostages until they get rescued by a cybersavior?”

Facebook is forcing a time sink using individual opt-outs (disrespectful, intrusive) while still storing the behavioral profiles (invasive, probably illegal) and they arrogantly pooh-pooh the whole thing and say they’re fixing things but there’s no evidence of same? Hmn.

If FB chooses to brush this off w/’there, there, you don’t understand’ style, they’ll have underestimated the social media movement’s viral capacity to bring about their own digital demise. How ironic is that? Om Malik of GigaOm called for a boycott awhile back, and posted Facebook’s response w/analysis…

Nate Weiner crystallized it well in ‘big picture/big brother’ mode…

“I think people in general are missing the point.

Asking for a blanket-opt-out feature is as effective at protecting your privacy as covering your eyes to hide from a charging bear. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean the bear is not there.

Likewise, just because you say ‘don’t show this data’, the mere fact that you can switch it back to ’show this data’, means that it is still in Facebook’s database.

And that is what should be the real concern here. Especially with the number of growing stories about Facebook releasing user’s data upon request without permission or a warrant.

Currently, the system is employed on only 44 partner sites. But as indicated on Facebook’s website, they have every intention of allowing any site be a Beacon partner. And as the system expands, Facebook will be able to collect data about you from more and more sites.

The question you should ask yourself is this: Would you find it acceptable for someone to stand behind you while you surf the internet, write down everything you look at, and then keep those notes for themselves?

Would you trust that person to safeguard your data?”

Sigh. About as much as I’d trust the Airport TSA Driver’s License ‘take it out of your wallet’ checkpoint people and security belt folks to return my gear unscathed.

Which reminds me…where IS my driver’s license?

Did they ever give it back to me from that last flight? I’ve got my Costco card… but…seriously. I’m not monkeying around…

Shhhh. This is a private matter.

Let’s hope it’s not tapped into a beacon blog feed.

Here’s a List of the Companies Signed Up With Beacon

* AllPosters.com
* Blockbuster
* Bluefly.com (NASDAQ: BFLY)
* CBS Interactive (CBSSports.com & Dotspotter) (NYSE: CBS)
* ExpoTV
* Fandango
* Gamefly
* IAC InterActiveCorp. (NASDAQ: IACI) sites (CollegeHumor, Busted Tees, iWon, Citysearch, Pronto.com, echomusic)
* Expedia (NASDAQ: EXPE)’s Hotwire
* Joost
* Kiva
* Kongregate
* LiveJournal
* Live Nation (NYSE: LYV)
* Mercantila
* National Basketball Association
* NYTimes.com (NYSE: NYT)
* Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK)
* (RED)
* Redlight
* SeamlessWeb
* Sony Online Entertainment LLC (NYSE: SNE)
* Sony Pictures (NYSE: SNE)
* STA Travel
* The Knot (NASDAQ: KNOT)
* TripAdvisor
* Travel Ticker
* Travelocity
* TypePad
* viagogo
* Vox
* Yelp
* WeddingChannel.com
* Zappos.com



  1. Marketers? YPulse ran a guest editorial today from TRU market research firm about “best practices and insights” in the social media market…

    I absolutely agree with the use of the term “citizen” in the context of these communities…

    Here’s what Peter Zollo, the TRU CEO had to say:

    “Think of Social Networking As Activity and Medium. For many users, social networking is more than just something to do — it’s also the venue in which they do it. Whether watching streaming video or TV programming, sending messages, listening to music, or searching for the next great thing, more and more users are enacting a broad spectrum of activities from within the confines of their favorite social network.

    Don’t Advertise, “Friend.” Social networking adherents participate in the community because they value the wholly consensual and value-added relationships they cultivate therein. When asked whether they wish to be advertised to, adherents overwhelmingly respond “no.” When asked whether they’d like to enter into two-way, “friend”-like relationships with brands they know, trust, and like, the answer we’re hearing is a resounding “yes.”

    Create An Ongoing Relationship Strategy. Interacting with social networking users shouldn’t be a one-off proposition. Just as users value those people, bands, brands, and groups in the community who interact with them regularly and appropriately, so too do they come to resent those entities whose attentiveness fades or disappears over time.

    Consider Aligning Your Brand with a Social Marketing Opportunity. Citizens of social networking sites think of themselves as exactly that — citizens. As such, they are uniquely receptive to entities — branded or otherwise — that enable them to communicate their social values.

    Personify Your Brand or Product. To succeed in the social-networking environment, consider how you can personify your brand or offering. What’s the appropriate personality and voice for your entity? How can you create a character or characters to embody and speak for your brand on an ongoing basis? Should that be an employee? An imaginary character? A brand-aligned advisor?

    Peter Zollo is the CEO of TRU, a Research International Company.

    For more information about Peter and his company, visit http://www.tru-insight.com


    Now…Shaping Youth’s editorial comments on the above:

    If Facebook would’ve adhered to its own community standards and fun media ‘sharing’ capabilities for USERS to control the info rather than advertisers collecting/mining it, this would not even be news.

    FB should have respectfully ASKED its citizens whether they do or don’t want to share their information…and made it easy to ‘opt-in’ and share on a group by group or even person by person basis for influence-peddling…

    Taking that agency away is what’s given them a well-deserved flaming…and they should’ve known better after the 2006 auto-feed debacle.

    Marketers…be careful with aligning your brand with social media ‘experts’ who could use a lesson in market research and temperament of the community themselves!

    Marketers are clearly out of touch with the way social networks really operate if this ‘best practices’ blurb on YPulse indicates any real ‘insights’ or ‘new’ information…this is social media mindset 101…

    And nonprofits? This goes for cause-marketing too…it’s about relationship building, not begging and badgering!

  2. Ad Age/Media Post’s Wendy Davis reports today:

    Facebook Mulls Beacon Revamp

    “After three weeks of increasingly loud protests, Facebook is reportedly considering retooling its controversial Beacon program, which notifies members about their friends’ purchases.

    Company executives were in talks through yesterday afternoon and the change could come as early as today, according to a report today in Business Week. Facebook hasn’t yet confirmed this report.

    Currently, when Facebook members buy items like movie tickets or shoes on participating e-commerce sites, news of those purchases are sent to the members’ friends.

    Members have an opportunity to decline to share that information, but the opt-out system is seriously flawed, with users not seeing the opt-outs and/or not understanding that doing nothing means Facebook will share information about their purchases. And who can blame them? E-commerce sites have been saying for years that they respect buyers’ privacy; people have no reason to think that the sites are now sharing information about their purchases by default.

    A MoveOn group, “Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!” started last week to protest the Beacon program, has now drawn more than 48,000 members. MoveOn is urging Facebook to make the program opt-in only — which would certainly be more in line with people’s expectations about privacy.

    Of course, it’s not just Facebook that’s seeing a backlash here. Some of the company’s advertisers, like Overstock, Fandango and Zappos, also can’t be happy to see their names repeatedly mentioned in connection with privacy breaches.

    Facebook obviously implemented Beacon in hopes of drawing more ad dollars. But given the pushback from members, not to mention the bad press for advertisers, it seems inevitable that the company will have to make some changes to the program.”

    Gee…ya think? Ahem…

    THAT, my friends, is how social media impacts change.

    Whack ’em in the wallet…works like a charm.–AJ

  3. I’m so glad we can have a say, sometimes, when it seems impossible to make the difference you desire. Hitting them in the pocketbook..amen..

    Dorothy from grammology
    call your gram


  4. VICTORY: WHOEVER SAID CITIZEN VOICES DON’T MATTER ISN’T PART OF THE DIGITAL DEMOCRACY! Hope this applies to their ‘storing’ the data too, not just “releasing” it publicly!–AJ


    “Big news! Last night, Facebook changed their policy and announced that no private purchases made on other websites would be displayed publicly on Facebook “without users proactively consenting.”

    This is a huge victory for online privacy–and shows how regular people can band together to make a difference as the rules of the Internet get written.

    Facebook deserves credit for taking a huge step in the right direction. Their decision will hopefully set a precedent for all websites–that the wish lists of corporate advertisers must not be put before the basic rights of Internet users.
    When sites like Facebook listen to Internet users and take big steps in the right direction, a little positive feedback goes a long way in encouraging them to keep it up. Can you send an email thanking Facebook today?

    Email Facebook here:

    Help us track our progress–let us know you emailed Facebook here:

    The Washington Post, New York Times, and media outlets around the world cited the 50,000 Internet users who joined MoveOn’s Facebook group and online petition as critical in getting Facebook to reconsider their policy. The New York Times called it a “mass protest” and London’s Telegraph newspaper said we achieved “dramatic change.”

    Here are a few of the many comments posted on our Facebook page dedicated to this issue:

    * “This is a pretty powerful feeling. Honestly, I didn’t think that people could make changes like this through civil action. I am very proud to be a part of this!”–Sean L. from Massachusetts, whose personal story about Facebook privacy was featured in today’s Washington Post.
    * “SUCCESS! Congratulations everyone! Don’t know about you guys, but I feel much better about using Facebook now.”–David G. from New York
    * “The changes sound good to me.”–Rachel H. from South Carolina3

    Taking a moment to give Facebook positive feedback will let them know they made the right decision, and will encourage them to keep listening to Internet users when making future decisions.

    Thanks for all you do–and for being part of this important fight.

    —Adam G., Daniel, Marika, Eli, Wes, Karin, and the MoveOn.org Civic Action Team
    Friday, November 30th, 2007

    P.S. Here is an excerpt and link to today’s Washington Post article–more articles are below.


    1. “Facebook adds safeguards on purchase data,” Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2007

    2. “Feeling Betrayed, Facebook Users Force Site to Honor Their Privacy,” Washington Post, November 30, 2007

    “Facebook Retreats on Online Tracking,” New York Times, November 30, 2007

    “Facebook bows to user pressure in privacy row,” The Telegraph, November 30, 2007

    “Protests force Facebook to change,” BBC News, November 30, 2007

    “Facebook Promises More Consumer Privacy,” Associated Press, November 30, 2007

    “Facebook Bows to Privacy Protest,” New York Times Political Blog, November 29, 2007

    “Facebook Dims the Beacon Spotlight,” Business Week, November 30, 2007

    “Facebook does an about-face to soothe privacy advocates,” San Jose Mercury News, November 30, 2007

    3. Facebook group, “Facebook, stop invading my privacy!”


    November 30, 2007 Facebook Changes Course on Data Mining
    By Andrea Foster

    “The social-networking site Facebook is scaling back its plan to allow users to see their virtual friends’ online purchases and Web-surfing habits. The decision follows a huge online outcry this month organized by the liberal advocacy group Moveon.org. The group said the plan, called Beacon, violated users’ privacy rights because it publicized what people do on the Web without their explicit approval.

    As first unveiled, Beacon would send messages to users’ friends about what they saw and bought on a wide array of commercial Web sites, such as Amazon.com, Overstock.com, and Orbitz. The plan was seen as part of an attempt by Facebook to garner more advertising money by pushing targeted advertisements to users based on their interests and hobbies.

    But in a message yesterday, Facebook said it would inform users’ friends about their Web activities only if it got explicit permission to do so. The turnaround came after Facebook received a petition signed by 50,000 users of the site protesting the feature. Moveon.org drafted the petition and collected the signatures. The incident marks the second time that Facebook has scaled back new features after protests from users. –Andrea L. Foster”

  6. Evidently, Coke had originally ‘opted in’ until they found that it was an ‘opt out only’ techno tool…and wisely waited to see what the backlash from consumers would be…

    Hmn…talk about sticking the toe in the shallow end and letting everyone else deep dive. I wonder how many of those other brands affiliated with Beacon before knowing that it was an ‘opt out’ format???!!! Fascinating…

    November 30, 2007, 3:53 pm From the NYTimes blog bits:
    Coke Is Holding Off on Sipping Facebook’s Beacon

    By Louise Story

    Tags: Facebook, Online advertising, Online retail

    “At Facebook’s Nov. 6 extravaganza to introduce its new social advertising features, I asked the first question after the speech of Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s 23-year-old chief executive. I asked why he thought lots of users would want to have information about their purchases sent to their Facebook friends through the company’s new system called Beacon.

    He made it clear that users would be allowed to choose whether to participate, and he implied that the choice would be explicit, or opt-in.

    I was surprised then when I saw the first version of Beacon, because it automatically sent your friends information on your purchases on participating sites, unless you acted to prevent it. It was an opt-out program. (Yesterday, Facebook reversed that policy.)

    I’m hardly the only one who found a gap between what Facebook said and what it did. And this may be costing it some of the blue-chip support that it had amassed. Coca-Cola, for example, has decided not to use Beacon for now.

    “We have adopted a bit of a ‘wait and see’ as far as what we are going to do with Beacon because we are not sure how consumers are going to respond,” said Carol Kruse, Coke’s vice president of global interactive marketing, this morning. Coke had been one of Facebook’s “Landmark Partners” because it had made an especially large commitment to use the site’s new features. Other Landmark Partners included Blockbuster and Verizon.

    This morning she said: “I, like you, certainly understood that it would be opt-in. That’s what I heard before as well as what I heard on the 6th.”

    Ms. Kruse called Facebook a “smart company” and said she could see good uses of Beacon, if it is on consumers’ terms.

    Matt Hicks, a Facebook spokesman, said Mr. Zuckerberg had meant that users would be given the opportunity to opt out of having information sent out by Beacon, and the company had assumed that anyone who didn’t say no meant yes.

    Even though the company changed that policy last night, it may find more marketers who had said yes to Beacon saying they really meant no.”



    International Herald Tribune
    Privacy is key to new social networking site, Kaioo
    By Doreen Carvajal
    Sunday, December 2, 2007

    PARIS: As rebel cries go, Kaioo rolls off the tongue more like a yodel than a war whoop.

    But the nonprofit organization – registered as a tax-exempt charity – is one of the newest members in the growing revolt against social networking sites that rummage through the personal information of members and turn it over to advertisers.

    Kaioo, an invented name inspired by the Greek word for “you,” is incubating a new sort of social network from a funky outpost of a former parking garage in Germany, which boasts some of the strictest data protection regulations in the world.

    The founders pledge that its mission is to create an international haven from networks like Facebook and MySpace, where advertising and the sales pitch are becoming as elemental a social ritual as flirting. And Kaioo says all the profit it might make from limited advertising will be donated to charity.

    “Users want to have an independent, democratic system that they feel is theirs,” said Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, chief executive of the music giant Sony BMG, who is financing the initial start-up of Kaioo out of his own pocket with ä500,000, or $730,000. “The biggest asset that we have is credibility and this platform can only grow if users feel that this is real and totally independent.”

    The November start of its online network, http://www.kaioo.com, coincided with an autumn backlash against Facebook. The fast-growing social network last week bowed to a petition drive of thousands of users demanding easy controls to opt out of new behavior targeting systems that track their off-site shopping and enable advertisers to alert friends on their network about the purchases – essentially turning members into pitchmen.

    In the United States, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy are both preparing complaints about the practice for the Federal Trade Commission. In Britain – where Facebook attracted more than eight million unique users in October – government data protection authorities are investigating a user’s complaint that it is impossible to completely delete accounts because the system permits only “deactivation,” meaning profiles linger on the servers.

    “Most people on social network sites are not aware of the audience that their data is available to,” said Giles Hogben, who is editor of a report on the phenomenon for the European Network and Information Security Agency, or Enisa, advisers to the European Commission. “They encourage people to feel that they’re among an intimate set of friends when in fact there could be millions of people reading what they do.”

    In October, the agency urged an update of European privacy regulations to take into account the emergence of social networks as huge digital warehouses of private information.

    A European Commission panel of national privacy experts, headed by the German data protection commissioner, Peter Schaar, are meeting Tuesday in Brussels to settle on its agenda for the next two years. A review of sophisticated data gathering systems or behavioral targeting developed by Facebook and MySpace is likely, according to Hans Tischler, a spokesman for Schaar. “This is only a recent development and it’s a very sophisticated way of advertising,” said Tischler, who noted that it was too early to say how and when the group would deal with the issue, “but this topic is too important to ignore.”

    American privacy groups are actually pressing to influence the European panel because they believe they stand a better chance of shaping more aggressive regulations that ultimately could have a global effect.

    “What most people don’t realize is that a very powerful mechanism – a kind of stealth infrastructure – has been placed at the heart of the digital media experience,” said Jeffrey Chester, founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington. “It’s a system to collect a huge amount of data about each and every one of us, to track us wherever we go and to target us.”

    The backlash against these emerging systems is manifesting itself in different ways. Thousands of Facebook users have signed a petition criticizing behavioral marketing and consumer groups are pressing for a “do-not-track” list for Internet users who want to end monitoring of their online activities to exploit personal endorsements for products.

    But those personal recommendations remain highly seductive to advertisers. A November survey of 4,000 consumers in four European countries – Germany, Italy, Spain and France – underlines the impact. Personal recommendations are worth five times the value of advertising, according to the survey conducted by Weber Shandwick and Paul Marsden, because half of the time people follow through on individual endorsements and make purchases.

    With computer users becoming unwitting cogs in a virtual advertising machine, organizers of Kaioo decided that the time was right to start an alternative social networking site. On the site’s home page, the founders make an emphatic promise: “User data will not be shared with third parties!” And they make another unusual pledge: “All advertising money goes to charity!”

    The project, based in Hamburg, is the brainchild of Thomas Kreye, who approached Schmidt-Holtz this year with the idea while he was still a business development executive at the German media company Bertelsmann, a partner in the Sony BMG joint venture.

    The project started last month in German and English versions. Schmidt-Holtz said his ambition was global though, and versions in five other languages, including Spanish and French, are in the works.

    Schmidt-Holtz said he was talking to potential advertisers and lining up musical acts for interviews, live streaming music or free song downloads. But he underlines that he is recruiting a broad group of artists from different companies so that the project is not considered the preserve of Sony BMG.

    “We are independent,” Schmidt-Holtz said. “Privacy and protection of data are some of our highest goals.”

    Those declarations are steps forward, according to privacy advocates, but they say that more could be done.

    Hogben, of Enisa, praised Kaioo “because it provides a lot more transparency.” Still, his agency is pressing for even more freedom: a system of “portable data” that would allow users to shift data profiles from one social network to another.
    In the meantime, about 5,000 users have signed up to Kaioo in its first weeks of life, most of them in Germany. Schmidt-Holtz remains heartened by the response. “The bloggers are normally critical people and they don’t like anything,” he said. “But we even have people who want to work with us. It’s really amazing.”

  8. ARTICLE 29 Data Protection Working Party

    DRAFT AGENDA (main topics)
    63rd meeting
    5 December 2007
    Location: Centre Albert Borschette, 36 rue Froissart, Brussels
    5 December 2007
    * Children’s privacy
    * Enforcement: First joint enforcement action, private health insurance companies (follow-up)
    * Internet Task Force: Draft Opinion on Search Engines
    * Report on Safe Harbour Conference, Washington 15-16/10/07
    * Data Protection Day (January 2008)

  9. ENISA–the European Network and Information Agency–released an important paper on privacy threats from Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites.

    The report is available here: http://www.enisa.europa.eu/doc/pdf/deliverables/enisa_pp_social_networks.pdf

    Among the threats the report cites include:

    1.1 Digital dossier aggregation: profiles on
    online SNSs can be downloaded and stored
    by third parties, creating a digital dossier of
    personal data.
    1.2 Secondary data collection: as well as data
    knowingly disclosed in a profile, SN
    members disclose personal information
    using the network itself: e.g. length of
    connections, other users’ profiles visited
    and messages sent. SNSs provide a central
    repository accessible to a single provider.
    The high value of SNSs suggests that such
    data is being used to considerable financial
    1.3 Face recognition: user-provided digital
    images are a very popular part of profiles
    on SNSs. The photograph is, in effect, a
    binary identifier for the user, enabling
    linking across profiles, e.g. a fully identified
    Bebo profile and a pseudo-anonymous
    dating profile.
    1.6 Difficulty of complete account deletion:
    users wishing to delete accounts from SNSs
    find that it is almost impossible to remove
    secondary information linked to their
    profile such as public comments on other

    Among the report’s recommendations include the need to consider reviewing regulatory safeguards and data protection law, such as the FTC’s Fair Information Practices.

  10. http://www.democraticmedia.org/jcblog/?p=416

    Great round up on the above article here…and great resource in general!!!!! I’ll rehash this privacy issue soon and try to interview Jeff at the CDD directly as he’s a wealth of knowledge!!!

    Meanwhile, pardon the ‘commentary posts’ but at least it gets the word out there in the interim for you research folks…

  11. http://www.kten.com/Global/story.asp?S=7454109

    TX AG Takes Action Against Web Sites That Illegally Collect Minors’ Personal Info

    Updated: Dec 5, 2007 11:33 AM

    From news release:

    Attorney General Abbott Takes Action Against Web Sites That Illegally Collect Personal Information from Minors
    Millions of children registered with the popular sites; Texas first state to take action under COPPA

    AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today took legal action against two Web sites that cater to children but fail to adequately protect their privacy and safety. Texas is the first state to file an enforcement action under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a federal law that generally prohibits Web sites from unnecessarily collecting personal information from children under 13.

    According to Attorney General investigators, TheDollPalace.com and Gamesradar.com unlawfully collect personal information such as names, ages, and home addresses from children. Investigators also discovered that the sites’ parental consent features were easily manipulated and circumvented. The lack of reasonable controls readily allow children to access the sites’ various features, including interactive chat rooms and forums, without their parents’ knowledge.

    Media links

    Video of the Defendants’ Web Sites COPPA website
    Photo of Web Sites
    Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit against Doll Palace Corporation
    Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit against Gamesradar.com
    Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
    Frequently Asked Questions (FTC)

    “These defendants are charged with operating child-oriented Web sites that violate the law by failing to protect young users,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Federal law provides important protections to prevent children from divulging sensitive personal information and to shield them from inappropriate sexual or violent content online. The Office of the Attorney General will continue aggressively enforcing laws to protect young Internet users.”

    Both Web sites violate COPPA by failing to include necessary disclosures and failing to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children. TheDollPalace.com, for example, simply asks young users who are attempting to register, “Is a parent with you right now?” Children who click “Yes” are directed to a page that allows them to simply click “OK” to vague disclosures regarding information collection and use. Gamesradar.com similarly fails to properly obtain parental consent.

    Under COPPA, these Web sites must make a greater effort to ensure that parents consent to their children providing personal information online. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers several options for Web site operators to obtain verifiable parental consent. Among them, the FTC recommends that Web sites maintain a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel for parents to call in their consent or provide a form for the parent to print, complete, sign, and mail or fax back to Web site operators.

    Investigators also found that the sites allow children to access potentially inappropriate content. TheDollPalace.com allows users to access chat rooms and interactive forums that discuss topics parents may find inappropriate for young children.

    COPPA further prohibits sites from requiring children to disclose excessive personal information as a precondition to participating in online games and features. Today’s enforcement action alleges that TheDollPalace.com requires children to fill out a 10-page personal profile in order to meet other site users and “search for friends.” The questionnaire asks children for detailed personal information, such as height, weight and eye color, and personal habits, including smoking and drinking behaviors. It also asks children about the type of person they would like to meet, including the options, “I would like to meet someone older than myself,” “My idea of a fun date,” and “sexual issues.” Despite collecting this detailed information, much of it does not appear on the user’s profile nor is it otherwise used for purposes of allowing users to meet and interact.

    Attorney General Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting online child predators. In light of today’s enforcement actions, Attorney General Abbott reminded parents to closely monitor their children’s Internet activities by using the following safety tips:

    * Teach children never to give out personal information such as their last name, birthday, home address or telephone number, especially in a chat room, over an online bulletin board, or to an online pen pal, without your permission.
    * Make sure your children know never to agree to a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet online.
    * Instruct your children never to respond to e-mail or chat messages that make them feel uncomfortable or from someone they don’t know. Stress that they should show such messages to you.
    * Surf the Internet with your kids. If it is not possible for you to actually surf with your children, at least talk to them about the Web sites they are visiting.
    * Place the computer in a public room in your home so that even when you are not surfing online with your children, you can monitor their use. Do not allow computers in a child’s bedroom or permit the use of Web cams.
    * Establish ground rules for your children’s Internet usage, including the hours they may surf and the kinds of Web sites they may visit. Post the rules near the computer.
    * Learn how to use parental controls and archiving features. You should be able to check your child’s e-mail account and review the sites your child has visited on the Internet.

  12. From CK’s blog…spot on!!!!!!!!!!

    “The Matrix just seems too apt a metaphor during this all-Facebook, all-the-time week. (And I’m not even a huge fan of The Matrix.) But, see in the clip below, how Morpheus is giving Neo the choice: take the red pill and see the truth…or take the blue pill and wake up in your happy bed again.

    (For those who have not seen this movie, it’s kinda complicated; but just know it centers on the majority of people being manipulated, with all but a small team of them that know the real deal.)

    See, because Facebook opted to go full-tilt with Beacon–not just ad banners–it turned from a “social utility”–which is how they position themselves on their homepage—into a marketing channel. Overnight. And they went from a customer-centric player, to a company. Sure, they can say they’re a social utility–but that will never be true again. The utility is truly for advertisers.

    That’s cool, a company needs to make money. And I’ve chosen not to use that company anymore. Plus, I don’t even have that much data over there (and none of it is particularly interesting ;-).

    But–for my readers and me–I’ll be the first to admit both my brilliance and my ignorance on this blog and, I have to say: I don’t know why it didn’t hit me before that they’d use our data to make us selling agents to one another. Banner advertising, sure. But to invade privacy and manufacture WOM? Nope. I admit to feeling very ignorant on this front. I’m a marketer for cryin’ aloud and I should have seen it.

    So I guess at the time I was still taking the blue pill.

    (or maybe I just didn’t think a company would go so far, silly me.)”

    URL for more on this: “Taking the red pill”

  13. New update from Media Post on privacy issues today for FB:

    “Facebook has added new privacy tools that give members the ability to decide which other users can view photos, phone numbers and other personal information.

    Facebook also recently started allowing people to opt out of SocialAds, which tell members which of their friends have signed on as fans of particular marketers. One of the complaints about that program is that it violates users’ right of publicity — a variation of privacy rights — by harnessing their name and image for commercial purposes. Users still can’t opt out of receiving the ads, but can at least veto the use of their own image in product endorsements.

    Considering that the site has been plagued with privacy complaints since at least September 2006, when it introduced RSS news feeds to inform members of changes to their friends’ profiles, not to mention the debacle of Beacon — a program that told members about their friends’ purchases — any move to enhance privacy can only help the company’s reputation.

    With the new controls, it also appears the site is increasingly taking on the traits of an e-mail channel or other utility. For instance, if users want to share a photo with just two or three people, they can now upload it to the site and use the privacy controls to grant access to just those people, rather than e-mailing it to them. Additionally, Facebook is taking another step in the utility direction with a new IM program, set to launch in the next two weeks”

  14. more:

    By Wendy Davis, Thursday, June 26, 2008 MEDIAPOST

    Facebook’s Latest Faux Pas
    Chalk up another privacy fiasco for Facebook.

    “The latest public relations disaster for the company that brought the world Beacon stems from Top Friends, an application created by Slide.

    Turns out that Top Friends had a glitch that allowed any users who downloaded the application to see information like the birthdays and gender of any other Top Friends users. Some of the users affected include Larry Page’s wife, according to CNet, which first reported the story.

    Facebook suspended the application after reporters from CNet raised questions about it.

    The social networking site is blaming Top Friends, saying that third-party developers must agree to comply with guidelines to place apps on the site. But consider, Facebook was specifically warned that this type of data breach could occur.

    Last month, Canadian advocates filed a privacy complaint that specifically highlighted the privacy risks posed by third-party applications. The complaint criticized Facebook for setting up an installation system that requires users to give developers permission to access their personal data by default. A pre-checked box says that users will allow the application to “Know who I am and access my information.” Users who uncheck that box can’t install the application. Instead, they’re shown the message, “Granting access to information is required to add applications. If you are not willing to grant access to your information, do not add this application.”

    While there is a way to opt out of sharing information with developers, users can only do so from a separate privacy page on the site, according to the Canadian complaint.

    The privacy group criticized Facebook for this procedure, arguing that the site should obtain users’ explicit consent before sharing personal information with third parties.

    The Canadian group also took Facebook to task for doing “an inadequate job of monitoring the development of third party platform applications.”

    “Hackers may easily penetrate into these poorly developed programs,” the complaint charges.

    With Top Friends, ordinary users were apparently able to discover personal information about other ordinary users, thanks to a third-party app with a security flaw. One only wonders how many other privacy breaches are waiting to occur on the site.
    Post your response to the public Online Examiner blog.

    See what others are saying on the Online Examiner blog.”

  15. I like this theme you are using… what is it?

  16. Hi Alex, are you talking about the WordPress theme? It began as ‘Desert’ I believe, and Brad at Stranova.com adapted it and customized it to our PMS colors and logo/brand identity. We keep adding new gizmos to it (like CommentLuv, and soon a Google Search bar within the blogk, etc.) but I have yet to archive it properly where I can find the copious quantities of data that I have written. (I have to Google myself)

    Workin’ on it. Hope that helps? –AJ

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Hey Peeps! You Think YOU’RE Under Pressure?!

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