Once upon a time, there was no such thing as the Facebook News Feed. There was no stalker sidebar and the homepage existed primarily to display the names of friends who'd "poked" you back. But, fast forward 10 years to the present day, and you'll see that much has changed throughout Facebook's lifetime. Though it still serves as an incredible tool for reconnecting with old buddies and staying in touch with new friends, advertisements and outside influencers continue to creep in, cluttering one's space and distracting from the platform's primary draw.However, as of April 9, Facebook will eliminate one of its least desirable attributes--Sponsored Stories. Unlike sidebar ads that feed off the user's online activities, Sponsored Stories positions ads that reflect friends' recent "likes" and brand interactions directly within the news feed. By using the given friend's profile picture, the ad creates an illusion, capturing the user's attention by turning friends into unintentional spokespeople and weaving said "stories" in among regular posts to ensure maximum exposure.
Because Sponsored Stories does not call for the user's explicit consent when using their image, nor does it offer the ability to opt-out, this tactic drew much ire, resulting in a class-action lawsuit that required Facebook to reevaluate its privacy measures. While Facebook will continue collecting user data, such as "likes" and content sharing habits, full control will return to the individual, as they will now have the ability to determine who sees which activities within their news feed. This motion to change also highlights the power behind privacy and consumer feedback, as this decision reflects the need for continued transparency.
"Companies should embrace transparency in all their social marketing activities," says Brad Lawless, vice president of strategy at Collective Bias. "Consumers get nervous when they feel a company is somehow acting shady. Most people will willingly give some access to their private data if they trust the particular company and feel that company will provide them with more convenience than they had previously."
While Sponsored Stories has always been more of a nuisance than anything else, its existence exemplifies the types of hidden tactics lurking online. Consumers are willing to provide information if they believe the exchange will prove valuable, but in many cases, individuals are completely unaware of which data points will be monitored and by whom. If companies want to continue thriving, they must learn from Facebook's mistake and avoid any and all strategies that deceive their audience. Consumers hold the power of personal information in the palm of their hand, and these insights have the potential to drive growth and improvements, but failing to lay the groundwork for trust will only lead to cracks in the foundation down the road.