Facebook backs down after members revolt

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Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, issued a public apology to the social networking site's users yesterday and promised that they could switch off a controversial advertising feature that tracked their movements on the internet.

The Beacon feature launched last month automatically shared information about what books, music, tickets and gifts users were buying on outside websites, but Facebook has been scrambling to quell a growing revolt among its 55 million members.

A U-turn last week, which gave users more control over what information was being shared, failed to mollify critics and yesterday Mr Zuckerberg said he would allow users to disable Beacon entirely.

"We've made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we've made even more with how we've handled them," he wrote on the company's blog. "We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologise for it... I'm not proud of the way we've handled this situation and I know we can do better."

Almost 70,000 people signed up to a Facebook group demanding that the company stop what they described as an invasion of privacy, while the left-leaning political campaign group MoveOn. org organised an online petition. The controversy had threatened to damage the credibility of Facebook, which gained much of its popularity because of the strict privacy rules that set it apart from rival social networking sites.

However, the climbdown could also be damaging. Beacon was meant to be an important money-spinner for the company, allowing it to take a fee from the e-commerce websites such as Amazon which would be name-checked when their products were purchased by Facebook users.

The company is on course to make a profit of just $30m this year but giddy expectations of future profits have pushed its valuation to $15bn.

Beacon was launched as part of a package of revenue-generating plans a month ago.

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