Facebook Ads Put You in the Spotlight


You'd think Facebook would have learned after the last time a policy change raised users' privacy hackles. Users revolted after the social network introduced the News Feed, which notified users of every slight change to their friends' pages. The site soon introduced fine-grained privacy settings to allow people to let embarrassing changes (such as “in a relationship” to “single”) go unannounced . In a move that didn't show up on the News Feed, the social network announced this week a new program of what it calls “social ads.”

The site will let companies set up their own Facebook pages free of charge, which ordinary users can interact with – for example, by rating a movie on Blockbuster's page. Facebook will then let the company serve ads to that user's friends using the user's name and picture to create the appearance that the user endorses the thing advertised. (For a sample ad, check out Facebook's explanatory page here .)

Some blog commentators have already pointed out that this may violate the state-law rights of privacy and publicity. New York, for example, forbids the "appropriation of the name or likeness of another" for one's own benefit, requiring affirmative written consent before a person's name or likeness can be used in advertising. Facebook argues that by using the social network – friending a particular company, perhaps, or posting that they like a particular movie – users are consenting to have that information shared. But context is everything, and consent to let your friends know you just saw “Beowulf” is definitely not the same thing as consenting to have your face included in an ad for the movie.

As with most websites, Facebook's terms of use reserve the right to change the terms at any time, and it claims the right to use any marterial you post to the site for whatever it wants, including promotion. Still, without asking for consent before the fact or allowing users to opt-out of being ad spam, Facebook is going to be hard-pressed to justify this one to either the users or the law.

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