Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A harsh lesson for Facebook

As expectations for a free internet increase, more novel ways have to be found to make money. Instagram is a prime example of how not to do it.
“Hello John. You only did six Facebook Status Updates yesterday. Why don’t you buy
the new iThing plus max supreme, with new Facebook infinity plugin included?”

There’s a famous scene from the Stephen Spielberg classic Minority Report depicting a possible future of advertising. In the film, whenever our hero John Anderton enters shopping centre, the nearest advertising billboard scans his irises and says “You, John Anderton, need a holiday / designer jacket / ticket to the Superbowl.” (And when he gets a new pair of eyes on the black market, the adverts change to “You, Mr. Yakamoto, need a holiday / designer jacket / ticket to the Superbowl.”)

Like most science fiction films, it sought to portray an uncomfortable vision of the future, in this case one with scant disregard for civil rights or privacy. However, it appears that the advertising industry completely missed the point and thought Mr. Spielberg was portraying a rosy future where hard-working businesses can sell more products to consumers through a “relevant adverting experience”. At least, this would explain the logic behind those internet adverts of “57-year-old [Insert location you are accessing internet from] Mom looks 27 – click here to discover her secret”. It would also explain why, when you look at one website, the adverts of that product keep following you to other sites – an action I find comparable to sales reps from Boots following you into Debenhams and Costa to pester you into buying the shampoo you were vaguely browsing.

They haven’t quite reached the technology needed to do full Minority Report -style advertising, but recently a photo-sharing site decided it would join in the fun. Yes, following its recent acquisition by Facebook, Instagram helpfully informed its customers, somewhere in its new terms and conditions, stating that in one month’s time they’d have the right to use your photos for any advertising they want One problem: in most cases, it’s not just the consent of the uploader you need: you also need the consent of the photographer (who is not necessarily the uploader) and for adverts you really need the consent of the people in the photos too. So really the only practical legal way they could use this is to use people’s photos as personalised adverts directed at them. Not sure what they had in mind – maybe “If you liked these hills, you’ll love the hills in Bratislakislavia which you can now reach with cheap flights from us. Click Here.” Anyway, we’ll never find out what their plans were because a massive backlash forced them into a U-turn.