It isn’t often I get contacted by Facebook about my posts here at TY4NS. But it happened today when I got a call from spokesperson Brandon McCormick. He wanted to correct a few things I got wrong in my last post (“Your face: Starring in a Facebook ad near you”), which also gave me the opportunity to grill him a bit more about Facebook’s “social” ads.
First the corrections.
Correction #1: McCormick says that, contrary to what I posted earlier this week, Facebook is not intending to allow app developers and third-party advertisers to use your face in its ads, despite the oddly worded language on its opt-out page.
That opt out was actually created in 2009, he says, after some third parties violated Facebook policies by scraping people’s profile photos and using them in advertisements. Facebook created the opt out to reassure users that their faces would not be used in ads served by third parties, says McCormick.
(I find this exceedingly odd – why give people an opt out for something that’s already against the rules? But whatever.)
And even though the opt out clearly says “If this is allowed in the future…” McCormick says Facebook has no current plans to allow this in the future.
Correction #2: I wrote in my post that sponsored stories started showing up on Facebook last week. In fact, McCormick says, Facebook began running these ads shortly after they were announced last January. It just may take longer for them to show up on your profile, he says, because a friend has to “Like” a product that an advertiser has paid Facebook to include in the sponsored stories program, and then you have see it.
[ See also: That new Facebook friend might just be a spy ]
McCormick did confirm users cannot opt out of sponsored story ads, which are really just Facebook’s way of monetizing the “Likes” that appear under Recent Activities in your News Feed.
“The sponsored story is basically a news feed story that's been moved to the right panel,” he says. “If you don't want that in your news feed, don't take that action. Most people who don't want other people to know the products they Like know that they should not say they Like them."
However, there is a workaround. You can unLike things you’ve previously Liked, which means they won’t be used in ads. So if in a moment of less than perfect sobriety you clicked “Like” on, say, a Depends fan page, you can save yourself the embarrassment having your name and photo appear alongside an ad for adult diapers some time in the future.
To do this, go to your Edit My Profile page and select Activities and Interests. If the page you no longer “Like” is listed, just click the little x in the top right corner and then confirm you want to remove it. If your “Like” isn’t listed, select Show Other Pages. In the window that pops up, scroll down to the pages you want to unLike and click Remove. Voila. You will have removed your name and face from being used in an ad for that product.
(Nota bene: Being perpetual optimists, Facebook only announces when you Like something, not when you unLike it. So if somebody you know remembers the Depends activity on your feed, you’ll have to convince them that they’re the ones who are losing it, not you.)
Other social ads work slightly differently. In those cases, advertisers submit their ad copy to Facebook, which then matches the ads to people in your friends list who have Liked that product, and then serves the ads to you. Advertisers never get the names of the people used in the ads, McCormick says.
You can opt out of other social ads that use your “Likes” by following the instructions I gave in my last post (Account/Account Settings/Facebook ads). Fair enough.
Still, that whole “allowed in the future” line bugged me, so I pressed McCormick on it. I asked, Can you state definitively that Facebook will never allow third-party advertisers to use profile pictures in their ads?
“At Facebook we never say anything definitively,” he replied.
That I definitely (though not definitively) believe.