Facebook risks new privacy row as it turns your “likes” into advertising

Facebook could be facing a new privacy row as it prepares to launch a new ad option that will turn your Facebook’s “likes” into ads or “sponsored stories” as it is calling them without giving users any opt out.

Some people are clearly not going to like this at all. Effectively, the new ad unit turns Likes, Facebook Places checkins, and application activity by users into ads. It allows advertisers to effectively take from the crowd and build ads on the back of any viral buzz it might be generating.The new ad unit means that it will give a lot more visibility to brand-related action such as a “like” because as well as featuring in a Facebook user’s news feed they could now also feature in a an ad unit.

Marketers like Starbucks will pay for these “sponsored stories” on a cost-per-action basis, meaning they pay for “likes” as some advertisers pay for clicks.

Personally I have no issue with this, and wouldn’t mind reading that my friends like CNN (one of the pilot brands) or any other brands, but I  can imagine others are going to be less happy about being slotted into advertising without being asked. Surely you would ask…that is common sense, right? Maybe not.

Facebook really needs to give people the option to opt out. You would think with the number of times that Facebook has battled privacy issues with its users it would know by now that it has to give users a full range of options.

Anyhow, for marketers, the move is part of Facebook’s efforts to add more social elements to its advertising for obvious reasons. If you see you friends liking something you are more likely to pay attention.

Facebook has had great success with a series of ad styles it has developed (polls, become a fan, video and polling ads) that fit neatly into the social fabric of the Facebook experience and get get users to do something very close to what it is they do with their friends on the site such as comment, vote or become fans.

This has worked really well for brands such as  McDonald’s. It had a great response to a poll on whether you like the gerkin in or out of your burger.

From Facebook’s perspective it argues that the move will benefit users and advertisers alike. It says users will end up seeing stuff from their friends as opposed to straight advertising.

While advertisers get another chance to get closer to users building on some of the impressive stats that we have already seen. For instance Facebook already has more than 10m users a day becoming fans of a brand or a page with the likes of Coca Cola racking up a whopping 22 million fans and Starbucks with 19 million.

According Facebook engineer Ning: “In our pilot cases sponsored stories really increased brand lift espeically ad recall and the likekliness to refer to a friend.”

What it won’t do Facebook says is increase the number of ads that users see on a page just the type.

Jim Squires, a product marketing lead at Facebook, said: “It’s about taking the word of mouth recommendations and endorsements that are happening across Facebook every day and increasing the distribution of those.”

If Facebook does not give users options when it comes to appearing in Sponsored Stories I wonder if some users will stop liking brands?