Facebook to Turn Users into Billboards

Facebook Privacy Policy Changes Make Billboards out of Users

Facebook has made changes to its privacy policy on Friday that will effectively turn its users into billboards for advertisers. Anyone who has a Facebook account can have their images, locations, likes, and other personal data used in advertisements directed at their friends and acquaintances, turning them into unwitting shills that do not get a single penny for their endorsements. The new policies were outlined in Facebook’s official blog and will go into effect for the company’s 1.2 billion users worldwide.

When these changes were first proposed in August, privacy advocacy groups petitioned the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether these changes were legit, and did not violate a previous agreement which requires Facebook to notify its users of any changes to its policies. The FTC would not comment on the investigation but maintains that they monitor compliance with all of its orders “and that includes reviewing any material changes to the privacy policy of a company that is under a privacy order from the FTC.”

Facebook has removed one controversial line from the changes, a line that stated that Facebook will assume that teens already on the website have already obtained permission from their parents and guardians, making their data fair game as well as adults. Although Facebook deleted this line from the proposed changes, the company did not confirm or deny whether it will track the information of teenagers.

Changes made last month have allowed teens to make status updates and other posts that are publicly accessible to all, and critics fear that this is unwise for privacy and safety reasons. The physical whereabouts of Facebook users are often made available for anyone to see. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) argues that Facebook should not be able to profit from the collection of private data of children and teens. Markey and other lawmakers introduced a “Do Not Track Kids” bill last week that would prohibit the collection of data from children aged 13-15. Children under 13 are not allowed on social media sites like Facebook, although the clever rascals can lie about their age.

Facebook wants the world to think that all this extra sharing by teens and adults alike will help it grow to become a more useful service, not just turn users into billboards. For example, it can mine old posts by your friends and friends of friends to see if they have relevant comments on a product or service you might be interested in. But ultimately, Facebook wants to capitalize on the time people spend on the site viewing advertisements, and make these advertisements more effective by catering them to each user. This has paved the way for “endorsement ads,” ads which re-post favorable reviews given to a product by your friends.

Facebook users will likely begin to notice their friend’s public profile photos, comments, and likes being displayed alongside the already ubiquitous advertisements. Facebook users who would rather not be turned into billboards would be wise to monitor their privacy settings regularly.

By K. Elsner

Wall Street Journal

Washington Post

New York Times

2 Responses to "Facebook to Turn Users into Billboards"

  1. Eric J. White   November 17, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I’m afraid this is the inevitable outcome of the “free” web. Just for irony’s sake, I’m going to log in to post this article with my “facebook” account.

  2. Anne Sewell   November 17, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Everything these days is about money, money, money. I am also sick of Google and its ads. I searched for a hotel in a Spanish city 2 weeks ago, and the hotel ads STILL come up as Google Ads, over and over again.


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