If you've ever dreamed of having your face plastered on a billboard advertisement or showcased in a magazine ad, Facebook is about to make your dreams come true. If you've never really had that dream, well, that's too bad because Facebook is still going to sell pieces of your profile to advertisers.
The effort is called "Sponsored Stories" and it's built around the idea that you, as a Facebook user, are already sharing the things you "like" and "checking in" at the places you visit. For Facebook and advertisers, it's a unique way to personalize the ad by featuring one of your Facebook friends and to make a few ad dollars off of it, too.
This morning, when I saw the Facebook video explaining Sponsored Stories, I immediately could see red flags flying all over the place in my mind. Who gets to see these ads? How much is Facebook charging these advertisers to use my name and image on one of those ads? Shouldn't I get a cut of that revenue, too? After all, without me, there is no ad. And what about my privacy? Is that being compromised?
In this video, Facebook is quick to put spins on this:
First, it explains that when we go out to buy products - everything from running shoes to cameras - we turn to our friends for recommendations because we know them and we trust them. (Well, presumably.) Therefore, it only makes sense to scour the feeds scrolling through Facebook - feeds you might otherwise miss in the flood of information swirling around - and highlight in the form of an ad. Makes sense, right?
Second, a sponsored story never goes to someone who's not one of your friends. Therefore, as the logic goes, that friend has already seen that you like Sweet Potato Fries at The Counter in Palo Alto and that three of your friends were with you there.Thinking about it that way, Facebook and the advertiser are only repeating what you've already said or done. There's nothing wrong with that, right?
Finally, this isn't just about promoting brands through your own recommendations. It's also about promoting public interest efforts that you're involved with - maybe a 10k to raise awareness of the fight against breast cancer.
It's hard to argue that Facebook is pimping its users out for advertisements when we're the ones who put all of this information about ourselves out there. Likewise, it's hard to bash them for sharing personal information about us to people we don't know - after all, we've accepted the people who will see this information into our Facebook world. And finally, it's tough to bash the company for finding ways to make a buck off of a service that's provided to us at no charge.
Still, I can't help feeling a bit queasy about this. How about you? What do you think?