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The great Facebook advertising conundrum

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By Nick Lang

It was only fairly recently that I started to pay any attention to the adverts at the side of my Facebook homepage. I was beginning to wonder why I kept seeing pictures of flowers and dresses out of the corner of my eye each time I changed my Status to something really really really amusing. Slightly curious, I started to check what was being advertised each time I logged on and very quickly a clear pattern emerged: It was all about weddings.

Ever since I changed my relationship status to 'Engaged' (hurrah!!!) I have had adverts for wedding dresses, loans, flowers and all manner of other random marriage related gubbins thrown at me. Needless to say, I had until then been blissfully unaware that Facebook uses personal information to target its advertising - should have seen it coming really. But as a teacher of subjects including human rights, this  got me thinking about the issue of privacy.

I brought this matter up in a lesson on Advertising and my students had very mixed opinions on it: on one hand it means that we are generally only going to be informed about products and services that we would probably want or need, which could be pretty handy. On the other, there is something decidedly sinister about a faceless networking website that spies on you and uses your personal information to manipulate you into buying things that you perhaps don't really need at all.

I did also wonder how far they would take it for some of our more random and worrying fellow humans. If the all-seeing eye of Facebook found that you were into bestiality, would they advertise pet stores? Or if one had a particular interest in S&M, would they tell you about sales on whips and spanking bats?

I wish I had the balls to find out by changing all of my interests to really bizarre shit that nobody in their right mind would ever admit to, but as a teacher telling the world that I enjoy making sweet love to pigeons and drinking my own piss could get me into a bit of a pickle.

I therefore submit this question to my fellow Banterers (it's a word, look it up):

Is targeted marketing a great way of being informed about things that are useful to you, or just a shocking example of how businesses abuse our privacy to seduce us into parting with our money?