How to turn off Beacon in Facebook

Facebook has been beaten up a lot this past week about its Beacon product, and rightly so. I heard the company had backed off on this feature, but when i checked my account last Thursday I had still been opted into this feature. Here's how to turn it off:

  1. Log into Facebook

  2. Click on "privacy" in the upper right (the link should read "lack of privacy," no?)

  3. Click on "External Websites"

  4. Check the box that says "Don't allow any websites to send stories to my profile"

  5. Click the Save button

Lifehacker Australia has a note about how to block Facebook's Beacon from tracking your offsite activity even if you've turned off Beacon notifications in privacy settings.

I don't think this controversy itself will cause Facebook to jump the shark as others have prognosticated, but it does solidify my impression of the brand of Facebook as ethically questionable, a site you have to keep a close eye on. It's the same discomfort you experience when you register at a site and it opts you in by default to receive e-mails from partners, instead of leaving that box unchecked. Facebook has always been aggressive in opting people into features that reveal a lot of what that person is doing (a lot of the site's appeal, beyond its clean design, is the voyeuristic nature of the news feed), but this Beacon affair implies how far they're willing to take things as a default, that ad revenue comes above user privacy. Facebook needs an ombudsman.

This week Hulu was temporarily dinged by Kevin Maney for sharing his Hulu surfing activity with Facebook, something we'd never never do. This is another of the insidious side effects of Beacon, the negative halo it casts on other websites. For a few days, when I heard that one's Amazon purchases would be displayed on Facebook, I thought perhaps Amazon had participated in Beacon. But having worked there, I just couldn't believe that Amazon would have changed so much. And it turned out they hadn't: Amazon does not participate in Facebook's Beacon program. But plenty of people implied that they did. Kevin Maney and other sites can issue retractions, but plenty of readers will see just the first negative post and never come back to read the retraction.

Facebook is still useful for monitoring what some of my friends are up to, especially younger ones. But I've past my point of peak usage. Facebook is the gossipy friend who shares all your personal details the moment you confide in it, and I'm cutting it back to "need-to-know" basis.