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Facebook mounts Tupperware-style ads push

Braced for privacy backlash

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Facebook is bracing itself for a user backlash after it launched a bid to turn hype into profit, when it punted a trio of new advertiser features at New York marketeers overnight.

The attack marks the first joined-up effort to make the cold, cold heart of web 2.0 start pumping cash.

There are three prongs. First, companies can create branded profiles, which users can then become "fans" of. If people post on the wall or upload a picture, it'll appear in their Facebook friends' newsfeed or in the banner ad space. The idea is that this will be a trusted recommendation of a business that will spread virally across friendship groups, like Tupperware or Ann Summers parties.

"For the last 100 years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation. And they're going to do this by using the social graph in the same way our users do," paper billionaire boss Mark Zuckerberg gushed.

Facebook is calling the system Social Ads, and there's no opt-out. According to reports, Zuckerberg did hint that if members kick up enough of a stink, as they did over privacy concerns last year, an escape route could be opened.

He also described Social Ads' type of "trusted referral" as "the holy grail" for advertisers.

Second, Facebook will flog access to profile information so advertisers can aim products at a specific target audience. Zuckerberg demonstrated it by punting trainers at women in New York aged between 18 and 30 who list running as an interest. He promised that no "direct personally identifiable information" would be sold.

It's the same idea that MySpace trailed as a spoiler on Monday.

Finally, a system of so-called Beacon applications will ask users to let Facebook track them outside the social network so it can know, and sell, more about them. If you visit eBay via its sponsored Beacon application, for example, it would feed details of your activities back to Facebook, which would tell your friends about what you're selling via the newsfeed.

The already-live assault mounts up to a big test of people's tolerance to their information being sold to marketeers. It's always gone on, of course, but by using it to intrude back on Facebook users' social lives, Zuckerberg et al will make an increasingly privacy-conscious populace more aware of it than ever.

If you believe the bloggers of Shangri-la, the result will be a valuable new "conversation" between giant corporations and ordinary people*. We'll let you debate that one. ®

*Bootnote

Try this slice of unreconstructed corporatespeak from the new Coca-Cola page (Facebook membership required):

The Coca-Cola Company engages in the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of nonalcoholic beverage concentrates and syrups worldwide. The company offers nonalcoholic beverages, principally carbonated soft drinks, as well as noncarbonated beverages.

The company's products also include beverage concentrates, such as flavoring ingredients and sweeteners; syrups, the beverage ingredients produced by combining concentrates, sweeteners, and added water; and fountain syrups that use equipment for mixing the syrups with carbonated or noncarbonated water for immediate consumption, and are sold to fountain retailers, such as restaurants.

Steady there lads, you're blowing our minds with how engaged you are with the audience. We don't think a "conversation" with a stultifyingly dull corporate lawyer is what the new media wonks have in (hive) mind.

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