In response to cries of "No way, Orwell!" from users, Facebook first reluctantly modified the program to make it necessary to formally opt in with each transaction -- and then, in another about-face, let users opt out of Beacon altogether. Speaking of such controversial "behavioral tracking" features, a Facebook VP smugly told The New York Times, "One thing we need to do is give people an opportunity to interact with them. After a while, they fall in love with them."
The good news is that Facebook users will have even more opportunities to interact with a whole new crop of Beacon-like programs. An exclusive peek at what Facebook users can look forward to in 2008:
FACEBOOK QUESTIONINGAre you a closeted homosexual in a small Southern town? Facebook Questioning will automatically suggest to those friends and colleagues who are able to "read between the lines" that maybe you're "questioning" your sexuality. It does this by comparing Beacon data with thresholds of what's considered "normal" heterosexual behavior by marketers. "The purchase by an unmarried, middle-aged male of more than two movie-musical soundtracks or DVDs per quarter doesn't necessarily mean that he's gay," says a Facebook veep. "But it will raise a rainbow-colored flag within our algorithm and might even help certain in-denial Facebook users with their own voyage of self-discovery. After a while, we believe that our users will fall in love with Facebook Questioning."
FACEBOOK MEDSThanks to Facebook's new drugstore tracking system, your entire circle can know if you're taking your meds like you're supposed to. "Peer pressure can be incredibly valuable in encouraging Facebook members to maintain healthy lifestyles," says a Facebook veep. "It's also a matter of community safety. For instance, it's reassuring to know that the whack jobs among our user base are up-to-date on their antipsychotics. Meanwhile, I, for one, want to know if my girlfriend is taking her Valtrex. After a while, we believe that our users will fall in love with Facebook Meds."
FACEBOOK PUBERTYTRAKBy commingling user-supplied age data with measurements culled directly from users' computers, Facebook can automatically alert friends of its youngest users of that very, very special moment in their lives: when they hit puberty. For example, Facebook can measure minute changes in skin humidity as members use the track pads on their laptops -- so that, for instance, a boy who exhibits signs of sweaty palms when pictures of Miley Cyrus appear on his computer screen can be reasonably assumed to be undergoing hormonal changes. Facebook also monitors members' voice chats and Skype conversations to gauge if their voices are cracking and/or moving up an octave and can analyze webcam streams for signs of acne.
"Many of us here at Facebook," says a company veep, "only realized that our boyish founder Mark Zuckerberg was hitting puberty when our chief operating officer spotted him in the showers at our company gym this summer and noticed that he was finally growing hair down there. With Facebook PubertyTrak, our COO wouldn't have had to look -- and Mark wouldn't have to endure the awkwardness of a colleague checking out his unit. The onset of puberty doesn't have to be an embarrassment anymore. After a while, we believe that our users will fall in love with Facebook PubertyTrak."
A note from Simon Dumenco: A previous version of this column included the name of an actual online drugstore. Because, apparently, .00001% of the population doesn't know satire unless it's labeled THIS IS SATIRE, I've taken pity on the previously specified drugstore and removed their name from the online version of this column. Believe it is not, some numbskulls actually emailed them to ask if this column was for real!