Beacon

By: Rachel Petersen

In 2007, Facebook came under fire for its advertising software, Beacon. The system allowed data to be collected and sent back to Facebook on its users when they were browsing 44 partner websites, including Blockbuster, Fandango, Hotwire, STA Travel, Zappos, Gamefly, and Overstock. But Beacon was collecting information on Facebook users’ activities on third- party sites despite the users being signed out of Facebook and opting out of sharing their activities with Facebook friends. This caused great concern because these users were not even aware that the data was being gathered or sent. It was technically an opt-out program but it proved very difficult for users to do.

A class-action lawsuit ensued. Lane v. Facebook, Inc. It alleged that even non-Facebook users were being tracked on these participating websites. (The aforementioned companies were initially unnamed by Facebook but became known to be associated with Beacon as a result of being named defendants in the lawsuit.)

For example, when a person bought a ticket on Fandango, Facebook received a notification and information on the purchase even if that person did not even have a Facebook account. Beacon, which was launched in November of 2007, was eventually shut down in September 2009. And Mark Zuckerberg himself even characterized Beacon as a “mistake.”