It seems that Facebook users have constantly been warned: “Be careful what you put on Facebook,” and “Don’t post anything on Facebook you don’t want your future boss or grandmother to see.”
Okay, so don’t post any comments about last night’s happy hour that may have lasted a little longer than an hour. But what about just pressing the ‘like’ button? You discover your favorite coffee shop now has a fan page, press that little ‘like’ button and go on with your day. That seems harmless, right? Maybe. Until your friend calls and says, “Hey, I saw you in that coffee shop ad on Facebook.”
You saw me where?
Facebook is now reusing users’ ‘likes’ as another way to generate income. Among other news sources, this New York Times article does a nice job explaining this concept further and providing examples of those surprised by this practice.
So why did your friend see you in a Facebook ad? Because you liked that coffee shop, you may now appear in a sponsored story on your friends’ newsfeeds. Said coffee shop can pay Facebook to post sponsored stories such as this one, which appear to your friends as advertisements. Because more and more research shows that people are more likely to buy a product after hearing it recommended by a friend versus seeing it in a generic advertisement, this seems like the perfect tactic. So, the coffee shop is happy because it just used you to potentially gain your friends as customers, and Facebook is happy, because the coffee shop paid Facebook to generate that sponsored story about you. But, wait, are you happy? When did you agree to show up in a Facebook ad for that coffee shop?
Well, technically, you didn’t.
But, by agreeing to Facebook’s terms of service (which is necessary before signing up for an account), you actually did agree to show up in these Facebook-generated sponsored stories for any brand pages that you reference in any way, including pressing that little ‘like’ button.
Is this fair? You do like the coffee shop, and you’re happy to recommend it to your friends. So why the fuss if you’re suddenly showing up on their Facebook newsfeeds, endorsing something that you’d probably tell them in a casual conversation anyway? Because, some argue, this is not a casual conversation. This is an ad on the Internet that you’re appearing in without knowing when and how often this ad appears. What do you think?
Fair or not, it seems that by agreeing to have a Facebook account, you are agreeing to show up in these types of sponsored stories if you choose to interact with a brand. So, think twice before ‘liking’ a page; are you willing to show up in an advertisement for that brand?