A simmering unease about threats to privacy from a new feature on Facebook is threatening to come to the boil, presenting the fast-growing social network with the first test of its unusual plans for making money from its site.
By automatically alerting a user’s online network of friends to things bought on other websites, the feature can reveal highly personal information, critics say.
Facebook, however, says its users can choose to keep their purchases secret, or to limit the number of online friends to whom their purchases are disclosed.
Known as Beacon, the feature was one of several money-making ideas Facebook launched this month to try to turn its users’ actions – such as their online purchases and their stated preferences for certain brands – into recommendations that might influence the buying habits of their friends.
Though it caused unease around the internet when first announced, the Beacon system has attracted a renewed burst of unwelcome attention in recent days thanks largely to the efforts of MoveOn.org, the online political action group.