|Facebook's Beacon was ahead of its time|
The only problem was Facebook forgot to ask its users for permission to participate. This lack of transparency was punctuated by the story of a would-be marriage proposal that was spoiled when the boyfriend purchased a diamond ring on Overstock.com. Because he was logged in to Facebook at the time of the purchase, it appeared in his girlfriend’s Newsfeed before he had the chance to pop the question.
For Facebook, the challenge was introducing products that goaded users into handing over more data. That’s where Beacon was a colossal failure: it exploited user data without compensating the end user. Even worse, it did so without asking subscribers’ permission to participate. Companies like Netflix, Pandora and Amazon have proven that users will gladly volunteer personal data in exchange for enhanced products. Beacon violated that golden rule of the digital age and was thus doomed.
Facebook seemed to learn from its mistake, introducing “Likes” and “Places”. These products gave Facebook valuable data about its users, but only if they opted in. With Likes and Places, both Facebook and end users benefited.
Fast forward to Facebook’s F8 conference last month when Zuckerberg unveiled “Ticker”. Ticker is the constantly scrolling module at the top right of the Facebook UI (user interface). You know, the place where it shows what your buddy is listening to on Spotify. Pretty soon it will also broadcast what article your friend read on Yahoo, video he watched on Netflix, book he read on Amazon, advertisement he clicked on, etc. Zuckerberg calls this the “frictionless experience”. Sound familiar? It’s Beacon 2.0.
|A Facebook user questions the value of Spotify updates|
Maybe Facebook doesn't have the user experience in mind. It’s possible that Ticker’s primary purpose is PR, not UI. At F8, Facebook unveiled a litany of strategic media partnerships, each of which will yield a treasure chest of user data. Because of the legacy of Beacon, it’s paramount that Facebook be seen as transparent in how it handles this data.
Ultimately, Ticker is transparency in the most literal sense: It’s an open window into the vast data collection of Facebook’s back end. As the updates from media partners come streaming in, Ticker displays them in plain view, satisfying Facebook’s need to be transparent. That’s an ingenious PR tactic to stave off privacy watchdogs. The only problem is that transparency is not a product in itself.
The onus is on Facebook to translate its growing stockpile of user data into a useful product, not a revenue stream. And the clock is ticking.
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