Smile! You’re in Enron’s ad!

Those in new media studies tend to have a great distrust of Facebook, and for good reason.

Facebook recently rolled out a new ad structure where companies like Starbucks may pay Facebook to find posts mentioning that company, then turn those posts into an ad for said company including that user’s endorsement of the company. If User X has 800 “friends”, then User X’s activity of “checking in” to Starbucks may be turned into an ad that could be seen by 800 people with UserX’s name in it.

Many alarmists are screaming “PRIVACY” about this new scheme, but the truth is that the scheme follows all policies of Facebook’s now highly scrutinized privacy policy. Frankly, I’m wondering why no one is screaming “ROYALTIES?!” In the real world, if Starbucks wants to tell the world that User X got a venti with whip nonfat quintuple shot pumpkin spice latte, there would be serious paperwork involved, at least one substantial check to User X, and a media buy. Now, it’s just one check to Zuckerburg and we go about our business with no idea what just happened.

Even without the theoretical issues, there are immediate issues. Let’s say that in 2 months, User X will check in at Target, because 10% off that day’s purchase is offered as a check-in bonus. Everyone wins. That check-in gets turned into an ad. No harm done. Now let’s also say in 10 years, User X will be a major politician who is running on a platform involving gay rights. There is the possibility that that check-in (at a corporation that has often supported anti-gay rights entities) could come back to have very serious consequences.

So what do we do now? Our new pimp is sitting pretty, and we are (or choose to be) ignorant of the information transaction and the transgression.