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'Marketplace' Report: Facebook and Privacy

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'Marketplace' Report: Facebook and Privacy


'Marketplace' Report: Facebook and Privacy

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From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.

The political activists at are going after a new target, Facebook. This, of course, is the social networking Web site with an estimated 55 to 60 million users; that's up from just 30 million a couple of months ago. Many of them are teens and 20-somethings. They hang out there online. MoveOn has a problem with Facebook's approach to privacy.

MARKETPLACE's Amy Scott joins us now.

Amy, what are the objections?

AMY SCOTT: Well, Facebook recently launched a new ad service called Beacon. And one feature of this service allows users to basically broadcast their online activity to their friends. So let's say I buy tickets to see a movie; next time my friend logs onto her Facebook account, she may see that I bought those tickets. And in some cases she'll see an ad for the Web site where I bought the tickets. And rather than my own online activity generating the ads that I'm seeing, I'm actually sending ads to my friends.

CHADWICK: Is that legal?

SCOTT: Well, privacy advocates say it's questionable. There are protections concerning the use of a person's name or likeness as an endorsement. You know, in some cases a user's picture might actually pop up next to these ads.

Here's how privacy advocate Marc Rothenberg describes it. He's the director the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Mr. MARC ROTHENBERG (Electronic Privacy Information Center): Just because a famous person walks into a restaurant doesn't mean that the restaurant can take a photograph of that person and put it on the wall unless they get the person's actual consent. And I think it's very similar what Facebook is trying to do here. It's as if you had walked into the Facebook restaurant, they took your picture and put it up on the wall and wouldn't take it down unless you objected.

SCOTT: Now, Facebook says users can object. Each time you make one of these purchases, you can choose not to share that information with Facebook.

CHADWICK: Well, if you can opt out, does that solve the problem?

SCOTT: Well, the default setting is yes. Please share my information. So because users have to opt out on a case by case basis, critics say it would be more fair to let them opt in. You know, people can get confused or lazy about reading these things and they may actually be sending these ads to their friends without really knowing about it.

CHADWICK: Facebook is just spectacularly successful, but there are other sites as well. Are they doing this?

SCOTT: Well, Marc Rothenberg says Facebook is the first, though many sites, like Google and MySpace, are trying to be much more targeted about the way they use information to send advertising, basically. An online book group called Shelfari recently got in a bit of trouble for basically spamming people by using its users' e-mail contacts list to send messages to basically anyone you've ever e-mailed in your life. And I in fact received such an e-mail recently. So as these businesses get more creative, I think that privacy concerns will keep coming up.

CHADWICK: Thank you, Amy.

Amy Scott of public radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE, produced by American Public Media.

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