Plug-in gives Facebook users another way to dodge Beacon

Flugpo browser toolbar monitors, deletes cookies created during Beacon transactions

A new Facebook plug-in to be released this weekend will allow users to monitor and delete cookies created by the Facebook Beacon advertising system. The cookies are used by Facebook to inform a user's friends about his or her purchases.

The free MyDataIsMyData plug-in developed by social network Flugpo will provide multiple options for monitoring and deleting cookies, offline content and visits to Beacon's partner companies, Flugpo said.

The toolbar now works with Internet Explorer, but Flugpo said that it plans to add support for the Firefox and Safari browsers as well.

Flugpo said that users can decide what cookies to delete. Users can choose to delete Facebook cookies, specific Facebook partner company cookies or all cookies. The toolbar also provides an updated list of Beacon retailers and sites to help users choose which sites they want to block.

"Selling private information for profit unbeknownst to the users is an abuse of trust," Flugpo noted in a blog post. "[Flugpo aims] to empower users by allowing them to control the amount of personal information that they make visible."

Flugpo said it created the plug-in as a direct response to the uproar from users and privacy advocates that followed Facebook's unveiling of Beacon late last year. The groundswell of criticism began when a security researcher said that the ad system tracks user activities on third-party partner sites -- including the activities of people who never signed up with Facebook, who deactivated their accounts or who were not signed on to the site.

Beacon captures data on what users do and buy on the external sites and sends it back to Facebook. Facebook in December announced a feature that allows users to completely turn off Beacon.

Kristen Nicole, a blogger at Mashable, noted that while the initial backlash over Beacon has died down, "there are still a good number of folks out there that would rather not see their faces on other people's feeds as part of an advertisement."

While the social network does offer privacy options for Beacon, "Facebook Beacon's mainstream press presence in itself may help [the plug-in] gain a good amount of users based on principle alone," she added

"Given Facebook's restrictions to curb newsfeed abuse, and the limited growth of Beacon, there will surely be more tweaking on Facebook's end in order to ensure that end users are more or less happy, whether this is through voluntary manipulation or oblivious bliss, with the Beacon's implementation," she said.

But TechCrunch blogger Jason Kincaid said that while the plug-in offers some value in terms of a sense of security, it is fairly easy to monitor cookies with other Firefox extensions.

"Furthermore, by installing the free toolbar, the users will be placing their trust in MyDataIsMyData - the same type of users who presumably would be put off by installing any sort of monitoring software on their computers."

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld

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