I believe I used a Prodigy email address to sign an online petition calling on congress to "censure President Clinton and move on" back in 1998. As I'm sure you know, out of those efforts rose the organization MoveOn, which sent emails to my Yahoo account for years and to my gmail for the last six years or so. It has been one of my favorite organizations, through their ups and downs, for a decade.
Which is why I simply can't fathom the blunder they made yesterday, thrusting themselves into the California Attorney General's race to fluff former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer (best oxymoron ever) Chris Kelly. In the final days of the campaign, no less.
As I long-time Moveon member and devoted supporter, I was shocked that MoveOn's current leadership seems to have so little understanding of the dynamics and history of the battle for privacy. It was only back in 2007 that MoveOn went to war with Facebook, scoring a major victory for privacy by leading the organizing to shut down the infamous "Beacon" program. MoveOn was attacked repeatedly in the press by...Chris Kelly -- who was not defending privacy, but defending Beacon. In fact, Kelly made so much money eroding privacy at Facebook that he's dumped over $12,000,000 into his attempt to buy the California Democratic Party nomination for Attorney General.
MoveOn's demands could be satisfied by making the Beacon feature "opt in." Right now, users who don't want the information displayed need to opt out after purchases at each participating external site.
However, Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said MoveOn is "misstating the way this process works."
He said the purchase appears only in the news feeds of confirmed friends and on the individual's profile (users have control over who can see their profiles), not to the "world." Mr. Kelly also pointed out that two ways to opt out, at the point of purchase on the external Web site, via a box that pops up, but fades away in under a minute and the next time they sign into their accounts. If users ignore the notification, the purchase information will be displayed, but nothing happens until the user signs in.
The argument made by Facebook in support of this is disingenuous, and uses that old trick I learned in my PR days of isolating one error in the opponent's claim and using that to dismiss their entire argument. In this case, Chris Kelly, Facebook's "chief privacy officer" (one of those new corporate titles that's going to come back and bite companies) told the New York Times that MoveOn is "misstating the way this process works." In particular, he said, the purchase is only shared with confirmed friends and on the user's own profile, not to the "world." At the same time, he does confirm, that if the user ignores the notification and fails to opt out, the purchase information will be automatically displayed.
And this coming from the Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook.
A Facebook spokesperson said that MoveOn.org was "misrepresenting how Facebook Beacon works".
He said: "Information is shared with a small selection of a user's trusted network of friends, not publicly on the web or with all Facebook users. Users also are given multiple ways to choose not to share information from a participating site, both on that site and on Facebook."
Earlier this year, Facebook shrugged off privacy fears when Chris Kelly, the group's chief privacy officer, told The Times: "We have always said that information [submitted by users] may be used to target adverts."
So far, about 13,200 out of over 55 million members have joined MoveOn's protest group and Facebook is standing by the statements of chief privacy officer Chris Kelly, who told The Wall Street Journal that the company has been transparent with users and that it welcomes feedback from those who have concerns. According to the Journal, Kelly acknowledged that the company could change its policies based on customer reactions but that so far he says reaction has been "fairly muted."
While the Beacon scandal was the most extreme example, the fact of the matter is user privacy was continually eroded at Facebook during the time Chris Kelly was in charge of privacy. Play with this interactive chart, click on the different years to watch what happened to privacy at Facebook.
Chris Kelly got amazing rich eroding privacy at Facebook, which MoveOn honorably fought. Until yesterday, when out of incompetence over the history of their own campaign and cluelessness over progressive politics in the largest state, they came to the aid of Chris Kelly during the final days of his $12 million vanity campaign.
Californians don't want an Attorney General doing for Justice what Chris Kelly did for privacy. It would be nice if MoveOn were leading the charge against Chris Kelly, instead of giving him cover to defend himself against ads criticizing Chris Kelly for his role in the Beacon scandal...when he fought MoveOn.
Already this is being mentioned as an issue for November is California Democrats agree to allow Kelly to buy the nomination. Hopefully, that won't be an issue after Tuesday.