The next time a person logs onto Facebook.com, they will see advertisements and news feeds, which are uncannily tailored to the preferences of the profile owner.
Just like credit card companies have long sold data about their cardholders’ purchasing habits to consumer companies, Facebook is exploring the use of similar information about users’ behavior to launch a new advertising platform. On Nov. 7, the Wall Street Journal provided an example of this new advertising method by explaining, “a user could see on one message that his friend bought an iPhone alongside a small iPhone ad.”
If a user is active on Web sites both “outside of Facebook and on commercial pages within Facebook,” or puts in the music preferences they like, according to the Wall Street Journal, then the ad network can share those interests with the user’s friends on their networks.
No need for alarm because Facebook only has the information users willingly provide and agree to share publicly. An article in PCWorld indicated on Nov. 10 that Facebook stands by its policy that “no personally identifiable information will be shared with the advertiser in creating a social ad and that Facebook users will ‘only see social ads to the extent their friends are sharing information with them.'”
While advertisers constantly struggle with users’ abilities to bypass ads through new technologies like DVR and pop-up blockers on Web browsers, Facebook seems to offer advertisers the hope they can use the credibility of consenting friends to not only target consumers but also to get a more receptive audience in the bargain.
The ads in the news feed and side bar could arguably help keep Facebook free for everyone in much the same way advertising subsidizes so many other forms of media. With new capabilities to target users’ activities, preferences and relationship status, the Facebook Ads network could now help advertisers reach users on a whole new customized level.
However, such a mainstream idea working its way into what previously had been considered an off-limits world populated only by Facebook’s users, is already creating the inevitable pushback from privacy rights advocates.
The debate is starting to settle on whether users should consider this new form of advertising as complimentary and convenient or invasive and exploitative. No offense to the privacy advocates, but there is nothing private about Facebook, and it was only a matter of time before marketers found a way to try and tap into yet another technological phenomenon that has become incredibly popular.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, stating, “Facebook Ads represent a completely new way of advertising online… For the last hundred years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation.”
Microsoft, one of Facebook’s marketing partners for the new ad initiative, also recently invested $240 million. Advertisers will only invest money into something they know will generate revenue for their client companies - otherwise they would pull their advertising investment off Facebook and look elsewhere.
In the end it isn’t the privacy or the technology the marketers are after. It is the large crowds that are attracted to those networks. Facebook is simply the latest example of that.
Christina Forsberg is a senior in English literature and economics. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.