Your face: Starring in a Facebook ad near you

Facebook has begun using subscribers' faces in sponsored advertisements. The next stop? Ads inside Farmville and other Facebook apps.

Remember back in January when Facebook announced its new plan to use your Likes in “sponsored stories”? (See “Facebook ads use your face for free.”) Well, they’re heeeeeerrrre.

Last week Facebook finally began rolling out this ad campaign, which is based on the as-yet-unproven premise that if you find out one or more of your friends like a product, you’ll be more favorably inclined to it as well. For example, check out the following ad.

eileen_likes_purina_ad_-_smaller_redacted.png

  Is it just me, or does that ad read like my sister Eileen really enjoys a heaping bowl of Purina Cat Chow?

[ See also: That new Facebook friend might just be a spy ]

Actually, this ad appeared briefly on my Facebook page two weeks ago, then instantly disappeared before I could click on it and find out the answer. So it was either a test or a mistake.

The following somewhat more subtle sponsored ad (though not a “sponsored story,” in Facebook’s increasingly muddled nomenclature) showed up on my page this morning:

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OK, now I am totally confused. If I too click the “Like” button, am I signaling that I like American Express, the Microsoft Xbox Kinect, the fact I can get something for half off, or simply that my “friends” (most of whom I would be unable to pick out of a police lineup) like it too and I’m just a hopeless sycophant?

(As an aside: Those Amex ads are like flypaper – I can’t seem to get rid of them today no matter how many times I refresh or click on other profiles. Looks like somebody jumped into the “sponsored” ad concept with both feet.)

Then there's this sponsored ad:

fb_cracked_ad_with_fro.jpg

No, that Cracked-loving schmoe with the 'fro is not my Facebook friend Kevin D -- though you might easily make that mistake.  

Don’t like it? Then don’t “Like” it – or anything else. Because once you do, Facebook will share your stated preference with whomever you’ve allowed to read your status updates and other News Feed posts. There is no opting out. Facebook can use your name and profile image alongside any product you endorse, per its privacy policy.

It’s going to get worse. It looks very likely Facebook will soon allow third party advertisers to use your name and face inside Facebook apps. How do I know this? Because they’ve already set up a way for you to opt out of it.

The WonderHowTo site has a painfully detailed description of how to opt out of third party ads, complete with screenshots. For the less visually impaired, here’s a quick summary:

Go to your Account link, then click Account Settings (not Privacy Settings) and click the Facebook Ads tab on the right. If a little box appears explaining Facebook’s new social ads policy and how you should totally trust Facebook to use your identity to help them make money, close it.

At the top of the page, find the line that reads “Allow ads on platform pages to show my information to” and select “No one” from the drop down box.

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Scroll to the bottom, find the line that says “Show my social actions in Facebook ads to” and select “No one” from the drop down box.

That will prevent third party advertisters from doing to you what Facebook has already done. It won’t stop Facebook from using your Likes against you, however. So if you are one day accused of eating cat food, extreme fondness for high-interest plastic, or having a badass 70s hairstyle, don’t come crying to me. UPDATE: Facebook has responded to this blog post with corrections and more information. See my next post, "Facebook and your face: Opting out of social ads," for the lowdown.

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan is no fan of Purina. But open up a can of SophistiCat’s Sea Captains Choice, and look out. Experience his juvenile sense of humor at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.

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