Should Facebook Use Your Activity As Ads?

    April 4, 2012
    Josh Wolford
    Comments are off for this post.

In the past few months, you’ve probably seen an increase in “Sponsored Stories” when you’re browsing Facebook. If that term doesn’t ring a bell, Sponsored Stories are basically advertisements, promoted by a brand, based on your activity that you’ve already put out there for the world to see. Let’s say that you posted a status update, checking-in at Starbucks and talking about how you finally got your morning cup of coffee and it saved your day. Facebook might display that “Story” prominently on a friend’s News Feed under the heading of “sponsored.”

The whole point of Sponsored Stories is to mix the core experience of Facebook with advertising. If the “ad” is actually just a promotion of an already written status update, or “like” of a particular page, it’s going to feel more organic to the user that sees it in their feed. After all, if your friend said that they just had the new Frankenstein Frito-Dorito-creation from Taco Bell and they loved it, that naturally serves as a better advertisement than one from Taco Bell themselves. Or at least that’s the thought.

That crucial personal link between the likeness of someone a user knows and the advertisement is being challenged by a Vancouver woman. Debbie Douez has filed a class action lawsuit in British Columbia courts that claims Facebook was in violation of privacy laws when they used her image and name in a Sponsored Story.

What do you think about Sponsored Stories? Do you think that there’s anything wrong with Facebook promoting actions that you’ve already taken? Let us know in the comments.

For Douez, the problem stems from a particular Sponsored Story that Facebook promoted. Earlier this year, the lawsuit states that “Facebook authored a Sponsored Story which displayed the plaintiffs name and portrait to least one of her Friends in the following format: Debbie Douez likes Cool Entrepreneurs.” Obviously, Douez liked a page on the site and that action was eventually promoted by Facebook to her friends. Douez argues that she did not consent to Facebook’s use of her name and “portrait” (profile pic) in any type of advertising for Cool Entrepreneurs.

Here’s the crux of the argument, straight from the filing:

Facebook does not give notice to Members that their names or portraits are being used in connection with a Sponsored Story or that Facebook is depicting that Member as endorsing a particular good or service.

In other words, other Members may view advertisements, including Sponsored Stories, purportedly endorsed by a Member who is unaware that his or her name or portrait is being used in connection with that advertisement.

Facebook does not advise, inform or compensate Members when it uses their names or portraits to endorse a Sponsors goods or services or otherwise displays Members’ names or portraits in Sponsored Stories.

Facebook does not allow Members to either limit or altogether block the appearance of their names or portraits in connection with a Sponsored Story.

Since the introduction of Sponsored Stories, Facebook has not sought or obtained Members’ consent to use Members’ names or portraits for the purpose of advertising or promoting the sale of Sponsors’ goods or services.

And the lawsuit goes on to complain that Facebook fails to compensate users for using their image and name to promote these particular brands, saying “Facebook did not compensate the Class members for the use of their names of portraits in Sponsored Stories advertising or promoting any goods or services notwithstanding that such use generated advertising revenues for Facebook.”

Put all of this together, and you can sum up the complaint in this way: You didn’t tell us, you didn’t pay us, and we can’t opt out.

The suit finally says that in doing all of this, Facebook has violated statutes in the Canadian Privacy Act, and:

Facebook’s use of the plaintiff and Class members’ names or portraits without consent was high-handed, outrageous, wanton, reckless, callous, disgraceful, willful and entirely without care for the plaintiffs and Class members’ statutory right to control the use of their own names or portraits, and as such renders Facebook liable to pay punitive damages.

While Facebook is absolutely transparent in terms of how Sponsored Stories work, Douez is right in saying that users don’t receive notice when one of their actions is promoted as a Sponsored Story. She’s also right in saying that users can’t opt-out of Sponsored Stories – as to say they can’t stop Facebook from promoting all of their activities on the site.

At this point, it might help to discuss the differences between Facebook’s social ads and the Sponsored Stories.

Both Facebook ads and Sponsored Stories have a social element. You’ve probably seen ads all over Facebook for goods and services, or for particular brands in general that show your friends’ “likes.” For instance, an ad for McDonalds might appear in the right hand column on your Facebook dashboard that reads “The McRib is back.” Under that, it might also read “Jack Smith likes McDonalds.” This is an ad that is paired with a social action after the fact.

Facebook explains adding social elements to ads by saying “everyone wants to know what their friends like. That’s why we pair ads and friends—an easy way to find products and services you’re interested in, based on what your friends share and like.”

Sponsored Stories, like I mentioned before, are just a little bit different. They take pages you like, apps you use, or statuses you make and promote them after the fact. It’s a story built from a story that a user’s friends can already see. For instance, I might see that my pal Jacob liked Mountain Dew earlier in the day, and then see it as a sponsored story later in the day.

The main difference between the two, however, is the ability for users to opt-out. You can edit your privacy settings to read “pair my social action with ads for no one.” If you do this, that hypothetical ad for McDonald’s McRib won’t have the addendum that shows you like that particular brand.

Making this privacy change won’t affect Sponsored Stories however. Users can’t opt-out of having their actions appear as Sponsored Stories, bascially because Facebook says that Sponsored Stories are nothing more than your own real stories, re-promoted. Sponsored Stories are organic, and don’t contain any additional message from the sponsor:

We sometimes allow businesses or anyone else to sponsor stories like the ones that show up in your News Feed, subject to the audience set for that story. While these are sponsored, they are different from ads because they don’t contain a message from the person that sponsored them. Your friends will see these stories even if you have opted out of the Show my social actions in Facebook Ads setting.

All of this is in Facebook’s fine print, but the suit claims that it’s not enough. “If you’re going to be using somebody’s name or somebody’s portrait for advertising purposes, you need to obtain their consent,” Douez’s lawyer told CBC News.

As far as Facebook’s ability to use your intellectual property (i.e. photos), they do give a pretty succinct explanation in their terms of service:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

We’ve seen the use of Facebook photos question by miffed parties before, when some Boston high-schoolers were upset after pictures they posted to Facebook wound up as advertising on porn sites.

Facebook is Facebook. That might sound meaningless, but what I’m trying to say is that people log on to Facebook, knowing that they are participating in a public forum. Even if you have your privacy settings cranked up to 11, and only a select few friends can see most of your activity, that still qualifies as public (just not as public as some people).

Sponsored Stories take an action that you’ve already taken, and allows brands (or anyone else for that matter) to re-promote it on the user’s friends’ News Feed. They don’t make any new information available. If you “liked” Starbucks earlier in the day, your friends could go to your “About” page and see it there with all of your likes.

But for brands, Facebook is providing some really high quality advertising. Making sure that a user’s friends see that he’s playing a certain game or checking-in at a certain restaurant seems like a much better strategy than a generic ad on the side of the page.

Should Facebook require consent before using a user’s activity in a Sponsored Story? Should users be able to opt-out, in the same way they can with social ads? Do you even care if your activity is used as a sponsored story? Let us know what you think in the comments.

  • Tommo

    NO WAY should facebook be allowed to do this!

  • Michael

    If they are going to use me in an ad for a product.. first they need to contact me.. show me what they want to post. then PAY ME>>> advertising is not free.. and actors and companies get paid for advertising so should we!! ME !!

    • http://www.mylightyearservice.com Kenneth Wayne

      Your so right Michael. They should be paying all of us when they use some of the things we post are even write or liked.

      • http://judionlinepoker.blogspot.com/ judi

        yeh is like no real, for some product are not effective

    • Joons

      but by using FB you signed your life away.
      not right – but legal
      hate them which is why I no longer have an account
      ( well kind of because FB never actually deletes anything!)

  • http://www.mylightyearservice.com Kenneth Wayne

    In my view, I don’t think it’s all that wrong for Facebook to have Sponsored Stories. On the other hand, if you like something “Jacob liked Mountain Dew earlier in the day” and they posted as a Sponsored Stories, that’s really not all that good. Besides, users should have the ability to control what they see and what Facebook uses for those adds. The “Terms and Services” for the IP content they should not have that right.

    “Do you think that there’s anything wrong with Facebook promoting actions that you’ve already taken”? If the person in question has already taken action, then Facebook should not promote it again.

    “Should Facebook require consent before using a user’s activity in a Sponsored Story”? I strongly do believe they should!

  • John

    I think this is going bonkers…. you all people on Facebook! are you sure you want all this personal info to go publically? Do you really know who and how they using it?
    Frankly don’t do FB and don’t have the time for it.. better things to do then watching what is someone up to!

    Facebook has many things in their T&C which might currently be within laws but doesn’t necessarily mean the law cannot change and then they will be in big trouble.

  • http://www.agence-hyperclics-marketing.com Pietro

    By dispersing such personal & private intimate information about one’s likes (& dislikes??), Facebook is opening the door to much more abuse than simply divulging what is being created as PERSONAL INFO by users. Facebook’s supposition that PEOPLE ALWAYS WANT TO SHARE EVERYTHING WITH FRIENDS is preposterous and reflects that these FACEBOOK “THINKERS” CAN AND WILL USE, ABUSE AND EXPLOIT anyone ans everyone using their “FREE” service. Doesn’t that ring a bell, Google ?? Looking for another social site is the best solution for NOT BEING HIJACKED and MAINTAINING SOME CONTROL over your life and what any other STRANGER might get to do with you, based on this INNOCENT PAID PROMOTION… DANGEROUS FACEBOOK CRAP… Think of kids now… and that PORN story associated to that article…

  • Saffron

    I think they should give the option to opt out of this situation… but they should alternatively offer compensation when a post is used to promote a brand… Facebook made money on it.. why shouldn’t you??

  • http://www.tden.com King Ralph

    Anyone who feels that they have to constantly update a facebook page with their daily activities should get their brain examined by a neurosurgeon.

  • jane

    It is fraudulent if Facebook uses comments and images without the owner’s consent. Furthermore, it is ridulous of Facebook to think that everything one writes can be used in an even more public way than the writer intended. Facebook is controlling everything that one writes or shares through images; and now it is most evident that they are exploiting our commments and images and using them for increased profits to the demise of one’s privacy and intent in writing on Facebook. Be very selective on what you write and what you share. Facebook needs to be reined in. I am glad that a suit has been brought forth.

  • http://safetyincounsel.com/ David McCannon

    They are already posting adds based on your activities and interests; to use a quote from you in an add is going too far. They should get your permission and give you a referral fee when they quote you in an add.


  • MyraS

    When I go to a trade fair and display my products, I might get some great comments in the guest book as well as some great pictures. Will I examine the data to see who was interested in what and apply it to my marketing? Absolutely! Will I take those comments and pictures and publish them in the newspaper without the participant’s permission? Not a chance! That would be a great way to lose customers.

    If you’re not happy with the policy’s of a company, don’t deal with them. Facebook’s practices are unethical whether they are legal or not. If all you unhappy people simply say “no more” and start canceling your accounts, they’ll get the message.

  • Jeffrey Morris

    I see a major flaw in this method of advertising. For example, Companies encourage you to “like” their brands by giving you something of value. Either a product, service, coupons, or some type of freebie. For me, this typically doesn’t equate to me actually liking the brand and definitely doesn’t mean that I want to promote the brand to my friends. Using my generic “like” to assume that I am a fan of brand is false advertising.

  • Gaerda

    YES! We should be able to OPT OUT! I dont want my Likes or posts to end up promoting anyone, regardless if I endorse the business or not. Facebook is a Social site, not a commercial. I know Marketing is essential for businesses, but keep my personal life out of it! Facebook is legally wrong here.

  • http://www.colorshosting.com Atul Deshmukh

    yes it’s a great idea but in advertising world mostly the rules are bent, as rightly raised by Debbie Douez, advertisers do violate and may go to certain extent of defamation under personal/ political agenda(ad campaign) like some political parties would do to woo their voters or something similar may happen with corporate rivalry. drawing the line would may be difficult but be required if needed to implement.

  • Greg

    Facebook will be replaced in time with services more relevant. Their new actions just make this go faster. The billions of hours of wasted time with Facebook will start to catch up with those who use it. It is just a matter of product Maturity.

  • Denise

    I feel that people should have the opprotunity to opt out of ads. I feel as though it is a violation of privacy and a “free sales pitch” for sponsored ads that facebook gets paid for. To me. thats not fair to the person facebook pics to help sell a product or service because they are fully unaware of the promotion and are not compensated for use of their name or pic which are both considered very private.

  • https:/:www.OrtnerGraphics.com Earache

    The advertising on Facebook is getting out of control currently. I viewed a friend of mine’s page last night who I know has gout. There was no mention of the disease in his status, sure enough some behavioral marketing popped up about a cure for gout!


    As a professional photographer I am also very annoyed by the fact that little display ads pop up next to my photos now.. That means people are making money off of my work and leaving me in the cold. I am considering not posting photos on the site any longer for this reason. That and the fact that the compression leaves them looking terrible.

    Facebook should be careful. I believe it was runaway advertising which largely lead to the undoing of MySpace.

  • http://www.peppermaster.com Tina Brooks

    Frankly, I’d far rather see what Joe’s sister’s Aunt Sally thinks of Starbucks than see incessant ads from Starbuck’s why I should drink their overpriced coffee. What do you want to bet that the occasionally negative story is going to squeak through? I can’t imagine that anyone is hand-picking their quotes. That would take centuries.

    The question should be; Are they screening the filtered quotes so that we only see what they want us to see? If so, then I wanna know that this is what is happening.

  • http://afstewartblog.blogspot.ca/ A. F. Stewart

    I just have this to say: Dear Facebook, just because we like something, doesn’t mean we want to endorse it. Take your Sponsored Stories and go away.

  • http://www.worldstreams.org/ Dari

    The person should be notified for permission to do so and compensated.

  • http://www.vougist.com Amanda

    An “opt-in” with ad revenue share based on user activity may prompt a Facebook user to not only allow these actions, it would also encourage users to become more engaged in their brands.

    Amanda aka The Vougist

  • PGS

    These should always be ‘opt-in’ & the consent should be madatory globally. If the users are further used by FB to make money, they should get a % of revenue from it. Same % for everyone. No “US people get 10%, Philippines get 2%… same % globally. Not that I’d be trusting FB – or any of the others – to keep very straight books for that.

    Life is so much easier without FB.

    Bit of a shame Debbie Douez wasn’t from Dallas… 😉

  • http://www.absolutewebworks.com/ Absolute Webworks

    Marketing continues to become more and more innovating. It does get tiresome. I am not OK with this.

  • Jamie

    …………..my step-aunt earned $4305 the previous month. she makes money on the internet and moved in a condo. All she did was get fortunate and follow the information made clear on this web site makecash30 com……………

    • Joons

      oh puck off bottom trawler

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    As the saying goes, “caveat emptor faccia libro” (buyer beware of facebook).

  • Barbara Hansen

    It is totally wrong for Facebook to do this. I hope the lawsuit succeeds and that more are filed.

  • Joons

    Why is anyone surprised – anybody not in a nuclear shelter with no contact to planet earth knew FB was doing this,
    It’s why those of us with one ounce of brain got way away from FB.
    Anyone left in FB land is unwittingly complicit because they didn’t read the FB fine print and while they don’t deserve this type of abuse heaped on them it was wholly predictable.
    Still – go for it – sue their britches off and go for it and best of luck – however their small print will kill any lawsuit.
    Bonne chance!

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Daniel

    This is getting way over the top.

    I have to agree with others in the comments above that, this should not be done without prior consent, or until an option is provided to opt out of such activities.

    Also I have heard that all your intimate details and data(photos, etc) are accessible to Facebook, even without allowing for public access to this data, and/or when your security(privacy) settings are in full swing(as mentioned above, in comments, also).

    • http://www.seonorthamerica.com Tom Aikins

      If you don’t like what Facebook does then why do you continue to use it? Are you people all too stupid to understand what Facebeook is? It’s a way for people to make money. IT’S A BUSINESS!! Do you think you have some god-given right to use FB? Are you paying for this service? What did you do with your pathetic f—ing lives before FB existed? Well, go back to doing it now and stop whining like a bunch of bitches.

      • http://www.projectsempire.wozaonline.co.za Mos

        Amen to you Tom.
        If this people think they have rights,then let them deactivate their FB accounts and stop complaining.

  • http://proventus.org.uk Provpeter

    Facebook, as with all social sites is in reality an online advertising agency. Nothing more and nothing less. A large proportion of its social content, unfortunately, is meaningless dross. This is not only peculiar to Facebook, the whole of the internet is awash with rubbish, and content that strives to profit on the back of the average citizen of the world.

  • http://proventus.org.uk Provpeter

    Actually the answer is simple. Stop using these social sites and start talking to your family and friends face to face instead of the pretend friends you accumulate on these social networking sites.

  • T.David Lane

    My rate is 150.00 per hour. I will take the first 10,000 in cash and I want 7,000.00 a month for the next 15 years.

  • Barbara

    Absolutely not…if FB keeps up this and some of their other privacy (or lack thereof) policies, people are going to get fed up and leave. I think it is dying out anyway or will in a few years and then they will be sorry they were so greedy.

  • http://LaymanWebDesign.com Obdurate

    At a MINIMUM, they should provide an opt out.

  • http://mohanarun.com marun2

    Using people for endorsements of products they didnt agree to before, is definitely stirring a hornet’s nest. Instead, sponsored stories should be repurposed/rescoped so as to appear in your own newsfeed, sourced directly from businesses -something like facebook ads, but in your news stream.

  • Donald

    They have gone to far at facebook they basicly do not care about your privacy and why can’t people opt out of any thing to do with facebook?

    I want nothing to do with them and have tryed to cancle with them but can only suspend my account and if you click on any related link your account is reopened.


  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2706839/ CL

    As an entertainer, I earn my living with my likeness, my image. Why should Facebook have the right to take money out of my pockets? It came to my attention that they were doing this for over a year by using my photo in a toothpaste advert for Lite Brite only after friends kept making reference to it and I looked up one day to see two photos of me peering back at me from the Facebook site. Only one was an advertisement for Lite Brite tooth paste. I posted to my friends who obviously reported it to Facebook, something I couldn’t figure out how to do. Facebook sent me an acknowledgement which evaporated before I could even read it entirely. Nevertheless that constitutes theft of services. It is how I earn my living and they cheapened that.

  • chase

    its their site – they can do what they want.

    Besides, What is Facebook again…?

    Who still uses Facebook anyway bunch old foggies.. chicken hawks and oh… every marketing company out there… OOOO wow let me hang out on the Local ad channel… just what I and everyone out there is looking for…more spam. Yippee!