Surprise, surprise. Social networking internet site Facebook has begun selling advertisements to all the people now addicted to it. The same people — Gen X and Y — advertisers normally find so difficult to reach. Cash cow, anyone?

There are three ways in which the advertising will target Facebookers.

1) Social ads: these are displayed next to users’ profiles and are about goods they buy or register opinions about. These are then messaged onto their friends (other networkers linked to that person’s Facebook page) who must accept the message. In real terms, you will be forced to read even more annoying messages from people you only added out of politeness.

2) Business pages: Facebook advertisers can set up their own profile pages for free. The site is encouraging companies like Blockbuster, Condé Nast and Coca-Cola to share information with Facebook about the actions of the site’s members on their pages. Advertisers also can fine-tune their audiences. For example, they can target only 16 year old boys who go to school in Melbourne and enjoy skateboarding, Eminem and dressing like American rappers.

3) Beacon : This feature allows Facebook to work with third parties to collect data about what you do on sites like eBay and AllPosters.com. The activity can be broadcast to friends or strangers depending on your privacy settings. However, advertisers do have to ask for permission at the point-of-sale to publish the details. (So make sure you don’t give permission to spread the word that you bought a cup found in Britney Spears’ rubbish bin in 1999).

For anyone who read the fine print before signing up to Facebook — hi there Evan —  all this was foreseeable. Here are just a few points from Facebook’s privacy policy that should alarm the alert:

  • “We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services, Facebook Platform developers and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile. Where such information is used, we generally allow you to specify in your privacy settings that you do not want this to be done or to take other actions that limit the connection of this information to your profile (e.g., removing photo tag links).”

    Translation: That photo of you wearing a lime green miniskirt and orange boob tube at the Year 12 “bad-taste” themed formal in your school newsletter from three years ago? The hot guy in accounts has just seen it.

  • “Facebook may use information in your profile without identifying you as an individual to third parties. We do this for purposes such as aggregating how many people in a network like a band or movie and personalizing advertisements and promotions so that we can provide you Facebook. We believe this benefits you. You can know more about the world around you and, where there are advertisements, they’re more likely to be interesting to you. For example, if you put a favorite movie in your profile, we might serve you an advertisement highlighting a screening of a similar one in your town. But we don’t tell the movie company who you are.”

    Translation: Facebook are trying to convince you that when they bombard you with annoying ads it’s to help you out.

  • “Advertisements that appear on Facebook are sometimes delivered (or “served”) directly to users by third party advertisers. They automatically receive your IP address when this happens. These third party advertisers may also download cookies to your computer, or use other technologies such as JavaScript and “web beacons” (also known as “1×1 gifs”) to measure the effectiveness of their ads and to personalize advertising content. Doing this allows the advertising network to recognize your computer each time they send you an advertisement in order to measure the effectiveness of their ads and to personalize advertising content. In this way, they may compile information about where individuals using your computer or browser saw their advertisements and determine which advertisements are clicked. Facebook does not have access to or control of the cookies that may be placed by the third party advertisers. Third party advertisers have no access to your contact information stored on Facebook unless you choose to share it with them.”

    Translation: They are trying to turn you into a Coca-Cola, Blockbuster, eBay addict who will max out a credit card buying whatever your friends like in an effort to be popular and fit in (after asking five times to be their friend).

For further reading, also see Facebook’s Terms.

Peter Fray

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