Privacy concerns prompt U-turn at Facebook

Social networking site Facebook has modified a controversial service that broadcast details of its users’ online activities outside the site to their friends, following complaints about its privacy implications. The service now requires users to opt in before their actions are broadcast.

The service, called Beacon, feeds information about users’ online activities at partner sites into a stream of “stories” made visible to other members of a user’s social network.

It also allows the partner sites to tack a “social ad” containing the user’s photo onto the story, suggesting that the user endorses the partner’s services.

Actions that can be broadcast in this way include purchasing a product, signing up for a service, or adding an item to a wish list. One of the first partners to use the service was Blockbuster: when a Facebook user added a movie to their queue on the website, that information was transmitted to their Facebook contacts.

Last night, Facebook said it would ask users to opt in to the service before broadcasting details of their online activities to others. A separate opt-in question will be displayed on their Facebook profile page for each of the partner sites they use, it said. If they do not reply then the question will disappear after a time, only to reappear each time they use the partner site until they either allow or refuse the broadcasting of messages about their activity there.

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