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November 27, 2007

Facebook adopts evil opt-in policy


If you haven't heard by now, Facebook has introduced a new advertising platform. It goes beyond just providing a banner image at the top of the page and even just creating a cool profile for your brand or product. It combines the power of social networking and behavioral targeting. Here are some of the features:

  • Targeting of your ad by demographics and interest
  • Unique ways to get your ad noticed when someone interacts with your ad or page
  • Integration of activities on your site with Facebook profiles
  • In some cases, ability to purchase ads on a cost-per-click or cost-per-impression basis

As a marketer, this is great. In my opinion, Facebook is really taking it to MySpace by providing some unique ways to deliver ads. I guess I'm in good company as there are a number of companies using the program including Travelocity, Zappos and Fandango.

As a consumer, however, I'm concerned. Facebook is gathering a lot of information about what I'm doing on Facebook and now they've stretched it beyond Facebook to other sites. Of course, there is an opt-out, however

"Facebooks users who make purchases at sites participating in the program have just 20 seconds in which to opt out of having that information published. That’s because the opt-out mechanism consisted of a small pop-up that vanishes 20 seconds after it appeared. After the window disappears, so does the user’s chance to opt out." Associated Press

This is equivalent to those email newsletter check boxes that are pre-checked at the confirmation page of an ecommerce site. Or even when Yahoo! or AOL change your defaults in your browser. There is a day coming when there will be a back lash against internet marketing based on privacy concerns. Tracking, and in Facebook's case, publishing user behavior is not wrong. However, doing it without the explicit permission of the user is wrong. Rather than forcing people to opt out, they should only be participating in these programs when they opt in.

Of course that would diminish the effectiveness of the program. However, Facebook could give incentives to participants with cool applications, etc. They could even restrict use of the site to those who are willing to participate (although I'd argue this is a bit too radical). Tricking people into opting in, however, is deceitful. (Tip of the hat to Just an Online Minute).

- Paul Herring


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Damn you, Facebook! Damn yoooooooooou!

I sorta see the privacy issue sticking around for a while, Paul. Like spam. Unfortunately, it will bite us hard. Ultimately, the marketer that is upfront is the one who builds the value - same as its always been. Opt-in vs. opt-out is about as old as marketing itself but for some reason even seasoned marketers make the wrong choice. It's hard for me to believe Facebook mucked this up...makes me wonder even more than I usually do.

One thing I'll note here is that you seem to be using opt-in vs. opt-out interchangeably, and they're not. What's more, the difference between opt-in and opt-out in the minds of users is huge.

Your description here isn't Facebook's evil opt-in policy, but it's evil opt-out policy.

Any time "doing nothing" causes one to be a participant, it is opt-out. Only if a reasonably observant person must consciously elect to participate is it opt-in.

Legally, if I present a "checked box" that can be unchecked, I've opted-in. Your comment highlights the problem. There is a difference between how the it's defined by the user and the industry. We as marketers should set a policy of not creating 'opt-out' solutions, as you've defined it. It seems, though, that the bigger a company gets (Yahoo!, AOL etc.), the more they become willing to use dirty tactics.

Legally companies are required to provide an opt-out, not an opt-in, so I presume that based on what you said, they are fulfilling their minimum legal requirements, though it does seem, as you say, dirty, any way you slice it.

The standard terminology for this practice for user experience professionals, though, is still opt-out.

I know many marketing folks get the terminology wrong because it is convenient for them to do so, but that's not an excuse to ignore the definitions of objective language and the standards created by UX folks.

If doing nothing causes one to be a participant, it is opt-out.

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