Facebook: What Beacon Backlash?

It seemed to me that Beacon was one of the bigger stories of the last week or so. My favorite post title is Om Malik’s To Save Its Bacon, Facebook Weakens Beacon. Fred Wilson is more favorable to Facebook than Om is, and than I am for that matter.

My view… is that all of this privacy stuff is way over the top. You need to disclose what you are doing and Facebook has done that… But beyond that, tracking what we do and reporting it to our friends and using that data to target advertising and content is a good thing. In fact, its why the Internet is getting better.

I decided to talk about this today with my students: undergraduate seniors, business majors, in early 20s, fairly equal divide between the sexes. I passed round a sheet asking each student to indicate: Facebook account (yes/no); and extent of knowledge about the Beacon ad program (scale of 0 to 4, with 0 meaning “huh”?).

Here are the results:

  • Of the 64 students, 55 have Facebook accounts.
  • Each of the 9 non-Facebookers reported 0 knowledge of Beacon.
  • 50 of the 55 Facebookers reported 0 knowledge of Beacon.
  • Of the five who admitted to some knowledge: two students gave themselves a 1; two students gave themselves a 2; one students gave herself a 3; and no student claimed a 4.

When we talked about the program later, some students were a little disturbed, but none seemed outraged. One pointed out that every member has accepted Facebook’s Terms of Use, and that these terms explicitly give Facebook the right to change the terms. One of the students who doesn’t currently have a Facebook account remarked to me as he left that the discussion had helped him realize it was time to get one.

Of course, this isn’t research: it’s just anecdote with numbers. Still, I thought I’d pass the numbers along, and try to capture the tone of the subsequent discussion.

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