In the past few years, trends for online advertisements have been taking more innovative approaches to reaching their target audiences, and last week Facebook took what some have called the next step.
On Nov. 13, Facebook – the internet social-networking system used actively by more than 54 million people worldwide, according to the Web site – initiated a new advertising system that has already stirred up some controversy.
Among changes made to Facebook, businesses can now build specialized pages and can employ the use of “social ads.”
The social ads use certain “social actions” from Facebook users, such as rating a movie, to create an advertisement that combines product information with a personal recommendation. This advertisement will then be distributed to other Facebook users who are “friends” with the person who made the social action.
Social ads are designed to allow advertisers to “deliver more tailored and relevant ads to Facebook users that now include information from their friends so they can make more informed decisions,” according to a press release from Facebook.com.
The advertisement can include the name and picture of the featured user, and will appear on space designated for sponsored content or in Facebook’s “newsfeed” feature, according to the Web site.
More than 100,000 businesses have already established pages.
Although it has only been active for one week, the system has already raised several legal questions among experts and spawned multiple Facebook groups opposing social ads.
William McGeveran, a law professor at the University, said the legality of social ads will depend on how transparent Facebook and the advertisers are in getting consent for the amount of information they use in an advertisement.
“The privacy law treats advertising as special,” McGeveran said. “There are special rules about using you in advertising without your consent.”
Although a Facebook representative was not available for comment, Facebook.com states that privacy protection will extend to advertising.
Leah Pearlman, product manager for Facebook Ads, wrote a blog on Facebook.com that ensured users they will still be in control of their personal information.
“Advertisers never have access to who is seeing their ads, personal information about you or even what social actions accompany their ads,” the blog stated.
McGeveran said because the concept of social ads is still new, how clear businesses are about their intentions and the reactions they receive from Facebook users will determine if there are legal issues in the future.
“The capacity to harness recommendations from friends and family and trusted peers is a whole new world for advertising,” McGeveran said.
Greg Benedetto, a Facebook user and president of the Facebook group “Stand Up! Don’t Let Facebook Invade Your Social Life With Ads!” said aside from legal concerns, the personal referral component of social ads is unethical.
“I just think it’s absolutely wrong for a company to think they can do that, to think that’s appropriate,” Benedetto said. “That, to me, reduces everyone to just a number, just a consumer.”
Jenny Piotrowicz, elementary education senior and occasional Facebook user, said with the already open nature of Facebook, social ads would be fine as long as the user consent is clear.
Teddy Nam, biology junior and Facebook user, said he doesn’t use Facebook for the advertisements.
He said he doesn’t think the idea of social ads is an invasion of privacy, but it’s not the way he wants to communicate his tastes with his friends.
“I don’t want to be used as a tool to advertise for another company,” Nam said.