Sean Lane's purchase was supposed to be a surprise for his wife. Then it appeared as a news headline -- "Sean Lane bought 14k White Gold 1/5 ct Diamond Eternity Flower Ring from overstock.com" -- last week on the social networking Web site Facebook.
Without Lane's knowledge, the headline was visible to everyone in his online network, including 500 classmates from Columbia University and 220 other friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
And his wife.
The wraps came off his Christmas gift thanks to a new advertising feature called Beacon, which shares news of Facebook members' online purchases with their friends. The idea, according to the company, is to allow merchants to effectively turn millions of Facebook users into a "word-of-mouth promotion" service.
Lane called it "Christmas ruined," and more than 50,000 other users signed a petition in recent days calling on Facebook to stop broadcasting people's transactions without their consent.
Last night, Facebook backed down and announced that the Beacon feature would no longer be active for any transaction unless users click "ok." Beacon is a core element of Facebook's attempt to parlay the personal and behavioral information it collects about its members into a more sophisticated advertising business, an effort to turn a user's preferences into an endorsement with commercial value.
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