We are all advertisements now – and that’s not a good thing

We are all advertisements now – and that’s not a good thing

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Chris Reed

Here’s a little piece I originally wrote for The Wall Blog:

I’m not saying we should rewind the clock. But I am saying we need to discuss the future.

I spend a lot of time noodling around Facebook and on blogs and forums, much of it for professional reasons.

But the blurring of editorial and advertising via personal (and apparently editorial) endorsements is starting to genuinely worry me. I therefore really like the fact that in the last couple of days, regulators on both sides of the Atlantic seem to have started to pay close attention to how the world is changing

In the United States, a coalition of consumer privacy groups has written to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) complaining that Facebook’s proposed changes violate a 2011 agreement by making it easier for the social network to use personal data about its users, including children under 18, in advertising on the site.

And in the UK, the Committee of Advertising Practice (the body that writes the rules the advertising industry has to follow) recently reminded advertisers of the rules around ‘native advertising’ – essentially that brands should not misrepresent paid-for content as editorial endorsement anywhere, in particular online.

Of course the two things are totally separate, but they’re also linked – it’s getting increasingly difficult to understand which endorsements are genuine, and which are paid for. And who gets paid.

And we’re potentially all about to lose our own image rights on Facebook.

Facebook’s proposed rule change, in simple terms, means that unless you explicitly opt-out (which actually seems harder than ever to do), any user can have their name and their image associated with anything they ‘like’ on the platform.

Where once you had to opt in, now you have to explicitly opt-out if you don’t want your face to appear in your friends’ timeline giving a virtual ‘thumbs up’ to a place or brand you’ve liked on the platform.

Oh, and you don’t get any credit/payment for it either. (Tough luck Z-list celebs – there goes another income stream). In fact, you won’t even know when it’s happened. Or how often it has happened. Whoever sees your normal updates can also see branded ads with your face in.

Of course, Facebook’s ads are clearly labeled as ‘sponsored stories’, but the link between individuals’ faces, likes, and ads is now potentially closer than ever. Too close in my opinion.

In the good old days, we could choose which logo or band we would wear on our T shirts, and we’d walk down the street wearing it with pride. But if this change happens then it’s the brands who will get to choose who endorses their products, based on what might have been one casual ‘like’ on Facebook.

Such a massive change in such a short a time.

I already feel sorry for the teenagers who ‘like’ the uncool brands and then un-knowingly advertise it to all their Facebook friends – so I welcome the FTC and CAP’s involvement.

I’ll also urge a degree of caution to our clients. Just because you might be able to use people’s faces in ads, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

And of course, just because Facebook is consulting on these changes doesn’t mean they’ll happen. But clearly it’s what could happen. It’s yet another reminder of who the media ‘owner’ is, how they make their money and how they rely on all of us to do so.

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