A controversial online marketing tool put in place by social networking website Facebook has been in the press again this week, following the revelation that a woman from Texas is to sue a company which is using the service.
 
The website’s Beacon application, which offers a targeted internet marketing service by documenting the activities of web users and sending the information to Facebook for use in targeted internet marketing campaigns, is at the centre of a debate in which one Blockbuster customer believes her personal information is being exploited without her consent.
 
The Associated Press (AP) reported this week that Cathryn Elaine Harris, of Dallas County, Texas claims that the video rental company, one of the social networking site’s affiliate partners in the Beacon scheme, transmitted data to Facebook with regards her personal choices in movie renting and buying.
 
It is noted that she has since filed a complaint with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, citing a violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act – a law specifically designed to protect such data for being used for marketing or any other purposes.
 
Facebook’s advertising platform was unveiled by Mark Zuckerberg at an event in New York last year but met with controversy from the outset with a large number of people objecting to information on their buying habits being used without consent. Civil rights lobbyists such as MoveOn.org claimed at the time that that the application violated privacy rights and made moves to have the application scrapped.
 
Despite the furore, search engine marketing analyst and industry expert Danny Sullivan said the industry had nothing to fear as the Beacon platform was not anything particularly groundbreaking and would do little to dethrone traditional search marketing techniques.
 
In November, the application came under threat as it emerged that targeted internet marketing campaigns would soon come under close scrutiny from European Union officials after concerns relating to privacy were raised. BizReport noted that regulators would consider the role of targeted advertising following a petition, put together by Facebook users, against the use of Beacon.
 
However, the project went ahead and has been the source of much controversy since. The latest accusations have been denied by Blockbuster and according to AP, Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for the company, states that the firm has complied with a number of privacy protection rules that are put in place to protect its online subscribers.
 
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