3:00 pm 12/22/07: Johnny went to the bathroom.
4:00 pm 12/22/07: Johnny went to the refrigerator and got a Hawaiian Punch.
(Now a Hawaiian Punch ad mysteriously pops up on the homepage of all of Johnny’s Facebook friends.)
While targeted marketing has been popular for years, the launch of the internet has allowed people to be monitored so closely that it has been boiled down to an exact science, allowing internet marketers to serve up ads that more closely match a person’s interests and buying habits. And social networking sites are no exception.
The New Face of Social Advertising
Facebook, one of the top social networking sites on the internet, has announced its new Social Ad program, which is driven by actions and habits of a Facebook user’s friends, as well as demographics. This new program has met tons of opposition, with adversaries claiming that Facebook is breaking all kinds of privacy laws.
For example, when a customer rents a movie from Blockbuster Video, that information is transmitted to Facebook, who in turn posts a bulletin telling all of that person’s friends what the Facebook user has rented and posting appropriate ads. Facebook also allows companies to buy ad space based on certain demographics, such as posting ads on all college-aged males’ homepages without giving a list of specific users. This type of marketing has gone on for years, but many are outraged.
Privacy Law and Advertising
Privacy laws are applied much differently to advertising, as they should be. The law as it is written does not allow advertising to use anyone’s name, face, voice or likeness to represent a product or service without that person’s consent. Yet this runs contrary to what Facebook does every time someone rents a movie from Blockbuster. We are all essentially becoming free spokespeople for the company. Opponents of Facebook’s Social Ad system argue that though a Facebook user agrees to generally share information when they sign up, these advertisers are using very specific information to profit, which in privacy law speak is none as appropriation and is illegal. Just because the company doesn’t receive a list of users, the Facebook user’s identity is still compromised in a very public way.
One of the scariest things about Facebook is the statement that “we may use information we collect about you from other sources.” Not only does Facebook use the information it collects from its own site, but it goes out and looks for more! In the Information We Collect section, it starts off by saying that not only does it use the personal information you provide, but the information gained while interacting with the site. Many times they stress the point of a personalized experience, and that Facebook is all about sharing information. While you may opt out of getting and sharing certain information, there is no big red “Leave Me Alone” button. You must do this for every advertiser. Basically, signing up for Facebook means that you are consenting to share information with everyone based on your privacy settings. It also states that you consent to having your personal data “stored and processed in the United States,” whatever that means.