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Facebook Beacon Got Pwned!

December 7th, 2009 by Andrew Cochrane
 

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I got this email from Facebook the other day, and a couple of thoughts struck me as I read it (the bold is my emphasis):

Facebook is sending you this notice of a proposed class action settlement that may affect your legal rights as a Facebook member who may have used the Beacon program. This summary notice is being sent to you by Court Order so that you may understand your rights and remedies before the Court considers final approval of the proposed settlement on February 26, 2010.

This is not an advertisement or attorney solicitation.

This is not a settlement in which class members file claims to receive compensation. Under the proposed settlement, Facebook will terminate the Beacon program. In addition, Facebook will provide $9.5 million to establish an independent non-profit foundation that will identify and fund projects and initiatives that promote the cause of online privacy, safety, and security.

For full details on the settlement and further instructions on what to do to opt out of, object to, or otherwise comment upon the proposed settlement, please go to: BeaconClassSettlement.com.

If you have never heard of Beacon, or the lawsuit against it, check this information out. Not only did they have to shut the service down, but they have to now do the corporate equivalent of Bart Simpson’s chalkboard punishment? This is really great news, but I wonder how effective a deterrent/punishment the ruling really will be. It is one thing to rule in favor of the customers in a large class-action lawsuit and award massive damages in order to prevent a company from engaging in invasive or abusive behavior. But this strikes me as a slap on the wrist, and the punishment of having to fund a non-profit company that essentially duplicates the EFF‘s incredible efforts will probably be about as effective as having Steve Ballmer write a two page essay on why monopolies are bad. I doubt Facebook learned a lesson here, in fact the lesson learned might very well be “next time, don’t get caught”.

As more and more ‘private’ information is moved online, it is going to be those companies that demonstrate an unswerving loyalty to the privacy and security of their customers who will be allowed to continue doing business. You had better believe that the day Google is caught exposing or misusing user data, it is going to find itself in deep, troubled waters. Personally, I don’t really put anything on Facebook or other sites that I would be embarrassed or endangered by, were it to leak out. But this case has served as a reminder that you can’t really trust any company to put your rights and expectations above their own need to turn a profit in order to survive.

 
 

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