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Facebook plans for Sponsored Stories raises privacy concerns

28th Jan 2011
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Facebook plans to use content from member’s posts in adverts that it sells to premium customers without allowing them to opt out could be set to raise yet another privacy storm.

The social network giant has revealed that a new ‘Sponsored Stories’ function will draw on the ‘like’ and ‘check-in’ features that users employ to comment on everything from restaurants to websites and products.

The aim is to pull content from such newsfeeds to display in a ‘Sponsored Stories’ area that will be located at the right hand side of the site, where other adverts are displayed. Advertisers will be able to buy and re-publish the messages and the writers’ name and photo will appear in the advert. They will not be able to edit posts before they appear, however, although they can be flagged for offensive content.

The idea is that if advertisers sponsor a post, friends will be more likely to notice it as new messages in the newsfeed will push others down and off the page. The social networking provider said that the all of the ‘Sponsored Stories’ would be labelled as such, but users would not be notified if their posts were used and they had no choice about opting out of the service.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has already started rolling the scheme out to ‘premium’ customers such as Coca-Cola, Levis and Unicef.

Jim Squires, a lead on Facebook’s product marketing team, told the newspaper that the firm would ensure that the system conformed with all privacy and sharing settings so that a ‘Sponsored Story’ would only appear to users that were supposed to see the original post.

He argued that because members were in control of what they posted to their friends, the fact that some messages were sponsored would not change the dynamic and, therefore, privacy was not an issue.

"Currently, marketers don’t have the ability to know or plan word-of-mouth endorsements as part of their campaigns. This gives a way for marketers to increase the visibility of stories about their organisation...this is word-of-mouth market at scale," Squires said.

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