you can talk about technology and science all you want to, but sadly it’s advertising that makes the world go ’round. and every year market and ad folks come up with a new way to make a buck off of harassing us, the consumers, testing the waters to see how much abuse we can take on our monitors and televisions before we have a stroke from pure rage. try to navigate to most websites without getting a pop-up (or pop-under) advertisement. it’s not commonly done. and of course, with social networking taking up as much of our lives as it currently does, it can’t be a platform that is immune to the generation of ad bucks.
now i use facebook as well as other social networking for a number of different things – keeping in touch with friends, sharing photos, and of course, shamelessly promoting myself and this stuff you’re reading now. but there’s certain things i won’t do. i have no interest in geotagging pictures i take. the concept of “checking in” with the world to where i am at all times isn’t fun to me – it’s downright frightening. but i digress. like all sites that want money, facebook relies on advertising as a fairly heavy revenue stream. the method they use isn’t direct advertising or pop-ups, it’s more contextual advertising – basically using public user information to determine what ads to show you. it works kind of like amazon’s “recommendations” section based on your user profile and purchasing history. for example – i just logged into facebook and here’s the ads that show up on my profile page:
1. ad for certifications in project management and IT
2. ad for duke university’s engineering masters program
3. ad for getting an online MBA in international business
|image from zdnet|
and all of these make total sense. my public information states that i’m an engineer, a project manager and in the IT field, and also went to business school. so this information gets rolled into facebook advertising to target me with what they see as relevant things. and i really don’t have any problem with that. it’s the result of information i made public, and that’s how advertising works. but given recent developments in facebook’s ad strategy, it looks to me that things are taking a sharp turn for the worse. instead of using just public information, they will use your actions – likes, check ins, and apps for what they now call “sponsored stories.” an example of this process, illustrated with starbucks, can be seen to the right. companies taking part in this scheme hand in hand with facebook are companies like coca-cola and starbucks for obvious reasons. but it’s not completely commercial, as “for the social good” organizations like unicef, project (RED) and autism speaks have also signed up for this program.
so what’s the purpose of this new method of advertising? it gives sponsors’ ads more relevance in your eyes by showing you that people you know personally recommend whatever service or good is in question. at face value from an advertising perspective this seems fairly harmless, because in a sense it’s making what you publicly do “more” public to people you’re not hiding information from. what i do have a problem with is that the advertisements directly include your name, your profile picture, and any people tagged in or associated with whatever activity you did. and that’s not all – because here comes the fun part: there is no way to opt out of this program. you’re a part of the system regardless of how much you tweak your privacy settings.
actually, that’s not completely true… if you and every person on your friends list set their privacy to hide 100% of actions from their own friends, then you should be safe. but at that point, there’s really not much of a point to having a facebook account to begin with. part of me is waiting for this scheme to backfire – if 1000 people checked into a starbucks with the comment “this tastes like someone peed in it,” is that the text that would show up in the sponsored story? i’m sure companies saw it coming though, and have some mechanism to prevent that. and i don’t even know how this would affect users who are farmville crackheads or some sort of equivalent, who already plague me with 324876823 requests to find an animal or help them in some sort of mob war.
time will ultimately tell how annoying i will find this practice. i’m sure my objections are really based more on principle – that there is no opt out policy for users. given the site’s history, this presents itself to me as a warning flag and a sign of times to come.
things like these makes facebook alternatives like diaspora look more and more attractive every time i look.