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Facebook slaps faces on ads

Rogue ad network to blame for photo privacy violation, apparently

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The appearance of Facebook users' photos in ads that crop up on their friends' pages has once again raised questions about the social networking website's privacy policies.

Presenting images of a surfer's friends alongside ads makes an online pitch stand out and makes it far more likely that surfers will check out the goods on offer. However, the tactic backfired spectacularly after one Facebook user was confronted by an ad for a dating website ("Hot singles are waiting for you!") that came accompanied by a photo of his missus.

The man's wife had not become a member of the site in question, but her photo was lifted anyway after a third-party advertiser used the photo scraped from her Facebook profile.

Facebook has taken enforcement action against a third-party advertiser for violation of its privacy policy. The social networking website issued a statement distancing itself from the practice of using photos without consent and attempting to quash rumours that it had changed its privacy policy.

"In the past couple of days, a rumor has begun spreading that claims we have changed our policies for third-party advertisers and the use of your photos," said Barry Schnitt, Facebook's manager of policy communications. "These rumors are false, and we have made no such change in our advertising policies.

"The advertisements that started these rumors were not from Facebook but placed within applications by third parties. Those ads violated our policies by misusing profile photos, and we already required the removal of those deceptive ads from third-party applications before this rumor began spreading.

"Along with removing ads, we've recently prohibited two entire advertising networks from providing services to applications on Facebook Platform because they were not compliant with our policies and failed to correct their practices."

Facebook does make use of profile pictures to indicate that a surfer's friends have an association with a particular product or service but this is only done after users take "express action". No data is shared with third-parties in these cases, Schnitt explains.

"For example, if one of your friends becomes a fan of a Page, you may see an ad, like the one below, with your friend's profile photo that indicates the action that friend has taken."

As net security firm Sunbelt points out, users can control their privacy settings in Facebook to control the use of any photos they upload onto the site, as explained in greater detail here. ®

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