End of ‘Sponsored Stories’ means nothing for Facebook privacy

By Divya Kumar, COLUMNIST
On January 13, 2014


Despite the recent huzzah for privacy rights activists propelled by Facebook’s announcement of scrapping its “Sponsored Stories” feature — a feature that resulted in a class action lawsuit against the social media savant — the blinds are still not fully drawn for the “like”-happy denizens of the Interwebs who are looking for privacy.

“Sponsored Stories,” a concept which essentially allowed advertisers to use the “likes” and “check-ins” on their pages as customized advertising in the users’ friends’ newsfeeds with their photos and activities, will go out of use by April 2014, but Facebook stated in a blog post to users that “social context — stories about social actions your friends have taken, such as liking a page or checking in to a restaurant — is now eligible to appear next to all ads shown to friends on Facebook.”

But essentially, none of this should be seen as any loss to advertisers, as the whole concept of Facebook essentially is based on a lack of privacy.

While users may now be able to opt-out from the specifics of sponsored stories, Facebook is still very much based on the concept of publicizing one’s preferences and likes and users should be cognizant of what they’re endorsing.

And though users may not have provided authority to use their image in advertisements, much as George Clooney may have never authorized his image being used to sell Italian clothing or Michael Jordan may have never authorized his likeness to endorse two Chicago grocery stores, the concept of a Facebook “like,” while not exactly akin to swearing off a first-born child, is essentially like publicly acknowledging support for to a company, product, place or idea.

Essentially, when a Facebook user provides his or her thumbs-up of an endorsement — a vote of approval that most likely took less than five seconds to give out — companies are able to milk the platform for its word-of-mouth marketing tactics in ways that “real life” doesn’t allow, with the average college-age Facebook user having 510 “friends” on Facebook, according to a study from Arbitron and Edison Research, that can be reached within seconds.

Though a headache for Facebook, costing them lots of negative press and $20 million in settlement fees, the canceling of the “Sponsored Stories” program is essentially meaningless, as advertisers are still able to reach the same target audiences they intend to.

Divya Kumar is a senior majoring in mass communications and economics.

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