Following my Facebook sex lube incident, I’ve become the posterboy for, first, a giant tub of lube, then the future of advertising, then for Facebook’s attempts to make money with its data and then for people who sued Facebook and sorta-but-not-really won $10 million in a settlement.
I wrote in my post “Of course Facebook is happily selling me out to advertisers. That’s its business. That’s what you sign up for when make an account.”
Some people disagreed. Here’s one:
I’d totally disagree, you don’t sign up for that. Surely the lawsuit proves this, users do NOT sign up to sell adverts.
First, it’s pretty clear that Facebook’s terms of service say that you sign up for exactly that.
10. About Advertisements and Other Commercial Content Served or Enhanced by Facebook
Our goal is to deliver ads and commercial content that are valuable to our users and advertisers. In order to help us do that, you agree to the following:
1. You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.
2. We do not give your content or information to advertisers without your consent.
3. You understand that we may not always identify paid services and communications as such.
That’s part of the problem. Facebook’s lawyers write the terms, and users only have the choice to not use the service if they don’t agree to them.
Second, the lawsuit, and its settlement don’t prove that you don’t sign up for that, either. In fact, the lawsuit proves nothing except that Facebook is willing to settle lawsuits.
It was an settlement in which, I’m sure, Facebook admits no wrongdoing. Companies settle for a multitude of reasons, including to avoid admitting wrong doing, to avoid a bad image from public trials, and to avoid setting legal precedents. It’s possible that a trial would have found that Facebook’s sponsored stories violate some right or law, but by settling, Facebook has avoided letting that become established; it’s still, I believe, an open question.
This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with the writer’s conclusion. Facebook is a “hungry information monster that wants nothing more than to take all your details, package them up and sell them on.” Users need to be aware of that and act accordingly. I don’t think users have to just grin and bear it. I wrote, long before the sex lube incident, that Facebook isn’t free.
Update: Today, The New York Times reported in a story by Somini Sengupta, the reporter who put me on A1:
Facebook has agreed to make it clear to users that when they click to like a product on Facebook, their names and photos can be used to plug the product. They will also be given a chance to decline the opportunity to be unpaid endorsers.
So, Facebook still has the right to use your content as ads, it’s just required to tell be slightly more upfront about it.