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Facebook Turns Your Friends Into Grinning Billboards

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Facebook is no stranger to complaints about privacy. Personal information being bandied about and sold off to advertisers -- all because one checkbox was left unnoticed. Zuckerberg and friends are fully aware of the ad revenue that 500 million members could generate, and a new service aims to make a little more.

The ubiquitous social network is rolling out the "Sponsored Story." Messages -- ranging from an Apple Store check-in to liking a new album on Sony's label -- can be bought by the brand and used in ad space on your friend's home page. A Facebook engineer explains the process to WebProNews:

"So, my friend Joe goes, and he checks into Starbucks. That will appear on my news feed, and I may or may not see it, and what we've seen is that a lot of impressions do get lost because there's so much content coming through. Starbucks can come in and say, 'I want to promote check-ins to our locations', so when I come to the site, I see a story that my friend checked into Starbucks. Now, I can click through. I can like the Starbucks page from that story, and when I like that page, it creates more organic content."

And the best part is: There's no opting out of this feature!

In addition to check-ins and clicking "Like," Facebook includes "application play" and "page posts" as options for ad purchase.

Application play records when a Facebook member uses a brand's online app. According to an Ad Age, this could be as simple as a member using a Coca-Cola app to upload a photo. The ad would then read, "John Smith used the Coke app to upload a photo." Page posts provide advertisers the option to buy sponsored stories to gain distribution of a brand's post, placing it in member's news feeds and home page margins.

There is a risk to the service, however. Should someone, say, check-in to Best Buy and write, "I've entered the unrelenting hellscape of dead-eyed floor reps and Napoleonic assistant managers," the ad will appear exactly as written. So much for grassroots word-of-mouth.

The service furthers Facebook's knack at turning you and your friends into grinning billboards. And considering Facebook took in $1.86 billion in ad revenue just in 2010, there's no shortage of brands looking to buy the ad space.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.