Facebook Is Changing the Rules So It Can Keep Selling Your Face

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Facebook is proposing a policy update that will ensure its right to keep sticking your name and photo next to advertisements sent to your friends without compensating you.

Use Facebook? You could be famous — and make the company money without earning a dime yourself.

A couple years ago, the company got in trouble for this. Facebook started posting “sponsored stories” asserting that a user’s friends liked certain brands, and it included those friends’ names and photos without asking for permission, CNET says.

That led to some bizarre situations, like this one described by Credit.com:

A couple of years ago, Cheryl Smith had her photo used in a singles ad displayed to her “friend” Peter.

“Hey Peter,” the ad said, with Cheryl’s smiling face on top. “Hot singles are waiting for you!!” Peter might still have dismissed the advertisement, but for one thing. Cheryl is his wife.

Many saw it as a privacy issue. It led to a class-action lawsuit, which was settled this week for $20 million, Credit.com says. (Those who were affected will get about $15 each someday, probably after they’ve long forgotten about it.)

As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to clarify its policies — but it’s not really changing them, and the settlement sort of legitimizes them. The judge who approved the settlement went so far as to say that “it is far from clear (plaintiffs) could ever have shown they were actually harmed in any meaningful way,” according to Credit.com. Here’s what the key proposed revision to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities says:

You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. This means, for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you. If you have selected a specific audience for your content or information, we will respect your choice when we use it.

An existing line of the policy says that “you understand that we may not always identify paid services and communications as such.” It sounds like, then, that Facebook can pretend you actively promote companies that are actually paying it to use your face, and nobody has to give you anything in return. Remember, Facead is free and always will be.

There’s no way to opt out, Credit.com says, short of quitting Facebook. You have a few days to comment on the proposal, and then, “as always, [Facebook] will carefully consider your feedback before adopting any changes.”

The best you can do is tweak your privacy settings, which Facebook says it will respect, to make sure nothing you post is available publicly. That should minimize the number of people who see such ads, but chances are, your face is still going to be digitally shilling products to your friends. So remember not to “like” anything you wouldn’t want them to see.

What do you think about this? Share your thoughts on — yeah, we know — our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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