There has been a considerable amount of talk on various social networks recently about how a Facebook user’s personal content can be used in advertising. In truth it seems there are two separate technical issues issues at play here. Although (in keeping with an earlier blog post) the real problem boils down to a lack of awareness.
Facebook Ads have for a long time now had the ability to use content from user profiles, mostly images, to enhance the targeting of the advertisements they run in the sidebar. If you click Facebook’s Terms link at the bottom of every page on the site and scroll down to point 10.1 (About Advertisements on Facebook), you will see the following:
“You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial or sponsored content. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place“
Unfortunately, every user is opted in to this by default. Also, this practice has never been effectively communicated to the user community. So although it is possible to opt out, most users are not aware of how to do that, or even that they are opted-in in the first place.
So, if you do not want your (no doubt beautiful) face to be used for Facebook Ads, log in to your account, hover the mouse pointer over “Settings” in the top right of your Facebook window and choose “Privacy Settings“. Next, click the “News Feed and Wall” link and select the “Facebook Ads” tab as below, setting this to No one will opt you out. However, this setting WON’T affect your photos that are being used as described in the next section, contrary to many of the stories circulating around the Internet at the moment.
The other, and perhaps more serious issue concerns advertising networks that place advertisements inside the Facebook applications that have become so pervasive across the platform. These third party ads are one of the major ways that Facebook application creators generate income, and they are served up by ad networks who are not affiliated with Facebook. If you give the application the rights to access your information (as indeed you have to if you want to use them) then the ad networks can access that stuff too. That’s how you might find yourself being the cover girl or poster boy for a product or service that you never intended to endorse.
The moral of the story:
Well, of course be careful which applications you add in the first place. If you find you are not using an application anymore, go ahead and remove it from your profile. You can do this by browsing to Settings > Application Settings and make sure you change the drop down menu from “Recently Used” to “Authorised” click the X to the right of the table, to remove an application.
Finally, many people are not aware that their information can potentially also be exposed by their own friends. In the words of Facebook
“When a friend of yours allows an application to access their information, that application may also access any information about you that your friend can already see“
To limit the amount of information visible in this way go to Settings > Privacy > Applications and choose the Settings tab and make sure it looks as below