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Facebook are back hard-hitting the headlines of the industry press with rumours of anticipated advertising offering. Though currently generating a measly $125 million a year in advertising revenue, plans based around user-profiled advertising are beginning to emerge that fuel speculation as to the company being worth somewhere in the region of $15 billion (as shown by Microsoft recently buying a 1.6% stake) – and this would certainly put them out there as a force to be reckoned with.

Facebook Is Headed for Madison Avenue

The article discusses something founder Mark Zuckerberg is calling the “social graph”, i.e. your connections to your friends. The plan seems to be based around you becoming a brand advocate to advertisers (at assuming no personal reward) whereby an advert could appear on your page saying “here’s a book that half of your friends are reading. Want a sneak peek at the first few pages?”

Well, November the 6th seems to be the date of the long-anticipated announcement unveiling their strategy.

Facebook Set to Introduce Major Ad Play
Social graph-iti

Mark my words, this date could well replace the memorable Guy Fawkes attempted chance to blow up parliament, with Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to blow up user privacy control that will result in us all chanting in the not to distant future, “remember, remember the SIXTH of November!

For all its merits, Facebook is a double-edged sword. It is a platform for getting us to part with personal information with our friends and colleagues – in most cases people you haven’t heard from for years (and with possible good reason!) – and then share the very intimacies of your daily habits and thoughts that you deem as an acceptable level. On the other side, it a way of commercialising those opportunities for gain in a wholly assumed intrusive way, just by mere fact you have decided to use their service.

The company wants to ‘better use the data its users voluntarily offer up on their profiles’, as if voluntarily and human guinea pig could be intertwined in this context, where they are relying on their huge database of people’s demographics, relationships, likes and dislikes as the basis of being able to serve targeted advertising against – and lets face it, they are possibly the strongest website contender for knowing the most about any given user online.

They have within the last month filed a trademark of the term ‘SocialAds’, which is a pleasant term for a concept has been a recurring theme for some while now, and is why I derived the more apt phrase ‘snoop-and-serve‘ advertising that I have blogged about before, or as some have dubbed a ‘stealth ad system‘. As a keen advocate of behavioural advertising myself, my beef is not related to targeting per se, but in the way you derive the means for delivery.

I am in favour of an ethical permission based marketing strategy for the future, whereby you ask what I am interested in and if I would like to continue discussing that with you, knowing at any given moment I can and may change my mind and cease the conversation. I am not favour of an assumed dictatorial approach on behalf of publishers or advertisers by trawling through my garbage.

Facebook’s privacy policy tries to cover them with a sickly ‘you can know more about the world around you and, where there are advertisements, they’re more likely to be interesting to you… For example, if you put a favorite movie in your profile, we might serve you an advertisement highlighting a screening of a similar one in your town. But we don’t tell the movie company who you are.”

I do not agree, as either a user or as a marketer. It is not sufficient to say that just because I want to chat with my friends, I also want to be tracked and approached by advertisers. If digital advertising has taught us anything, it is that intrusion will not sustain itself for too long as it is getting lost in all the modern day clutter – and shown by falling results. Shouting louder does not help and neither does just following me around like a cyber-stalker. Unless you can come up and hold an interesting conversation with me, engage and immerse me, then I am most likely to tell you to shove off with the same gusto I would tell a drunk lady at a bar trying to chat me up…

No other aspect of living goes so far to question what society has seen as a norm. If I choose to meet friends regularly at a social club, I would not find it acceptable for the bar manager to stand on the street corner telling all and sundry I was in his bar, in case another passing acquaintance of mine may wish to know. If I wanted them to know, I would tell them! And I certainly would not accept or condone CCTV cameras installed to record my conversation, so when I went to the toilet, appropriately relevant advertising can be displayed to me there – whether or not you tell the advertiser where I am.

It comes down to limits and in Facebook’s world ideology, that is just mere Consequentialism whereby ‘the end justifies the means’. Now this is an age old concept going back to Greco-Roman hedonistic times that sees the Greek playwright Sophocles writing in Electra (c 409 B.C.), ‘The end excuses any evil,’ a thought later developed by the Roman poet Ovid as ‘The result justifies the deed’ in ‘Heroides’ (c. 10 B.C.). It’s a fantastic excuse and cop-out for all seekers of pleasure, until pleasure, or something else comes seeking me. Surely my choice is the all important aspect here. Surely that forms the basics of human rights as one of a Deontological ethical issue whereby core morals of what is deemed right and wrong must come into play – and then be rigorously defended by those of us in the know on behalf of those who are not so privileged? Surely this is the underlying principle behind free-choice and every man created equal – and why laws are set up to defend these truths?

Consider the whole aspect of safety on Facebook that has recently raised questions around what is considered private and public, especially when you contemplate their decision to propagate content to search engines by default – not choice –which, lets be frank, is a paedophiles wish come true for all those minor users with their photos now all over Google. Despite Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Chris Kelly’s petty comfort to parents by citing a solution to ‘let children know when they are talking with adults‘ – as if that is going to alleviate parents fears.

Come on Chris, have you yourself not considered linking all the pieces together yourself or do you really deem the rest of us incapable of doing so?

Web 2.0 is not about social networking, it is about conversation – and that is ‘two-way’. That is why companies are now contemplating how they build a brand against a vocal audience that no longer buys the tripe of a marketer. We are intelligent people, not experiments in an ad lab. As a user, we want to be appreciated and treated as an equal – and our opinion matters. Rush ahead and dictate to the rest of us and watch the backlash against Big Brother.

Ask and you may well receive, dictate and you’ll probably end up with a smack in your Face-book…