We all love to paint a picture with our Facebook status updates. If I’m eating ice cream, I’m going to be so descriptive that you’ll actually see that glistening caramel. Well, Facebook has just taken “oversharing” to a new level. Now you can update your status with an adorable little emoticon, designed to present your activities and emotions in a more visual way.

For millions of young people who grew up on social networking, quaint icons and smileys hearken back to a simpler time: Myspace, AOL Instant Messenger, etc. The team at Facebook hopes the nostalgic cuteness will catch on — but you might not be aware that the emoticon system can be used to target you as a consumer.


Sneaky Smileys: How Your Emoticons Can Be Exploited by Advertisers

In truth, using the emoticon system actually allows Facebook to convert your interests and hobbies into data, which may eventually affect the advertisements you see and the suggestions you receive from Facebook.

Using the “listening to” icon to let your followers know which Keith Urban album you’re digging today? Soon, you might start seeing a whole lot of banner ads for noise-canceling headphones or vintage cowboy hats.

Closeup of Facebook screen

Updating your status with an emoticon or icon may make you an easier advertising target.

Scambook has spread awareness of Facebook’s darker side, from the possible privacy violation of facial recognition software to Raspberry Ultra Drops allegedly hacking your profile. The emoticon system is yet another way your potentially private information becomes public — this time when it comes to advertising.

When the feature was first rolled out in January, Techcrunch writer Josh Constin quickly caught on to the marketing potential:

If you choose a particular pre-formatted emotion, piece of media, or food, Facebook could potentially use that behavior to pinpoint you with ads…Coffee shops might be able to pay to reach coffee drinkers, and Netflix would probably love to target sad users who could be primed to stay home and watch some videos. Going further, Facebook could even sell “Sponsored Activities,” where advertisers could pay to have themselves suggested as what someone was up to in the category selector.

Although the new “emojis” are adorable, don’t be fooled. Like most things you choose to post on Facebook, they contain information that is quantifiable and therefore valuable to advertisers.


Facebook and Consumer Profiling

Not only do the emoticons put your activities into specific categories, they key into the brands you may be promoting with your innocent public shoutouts. Excited to tell everyone about the great cocktail dress you picked up at Forever 21? Mention the store and Facebook will helpfully add a tag to its corporate page.

It’s another way that your practices as a consumer can be electronically pinpointed and used to sell goods and services to you and your friends.

Girl typing on laptop

Publicizing your favorite brands on Facebook can make you a walking billboard on your social network. Be careful that you don’t spam your friends with ads.

Currently, it’s difficult to research buyer trends and pick up your preferences using simple language algorithms. In other words, even if you often mention Starbucks coffee in your statuses, computers still won’t have an easy time predicting your future behavior.

Using an emoticon system vastly simplifies the process of breaking down your lifestyle and interests. Think of it as distilling your Facebook presence from a human being into a series of common tags and statistics.

For its part, Facebook has promoted the new icons as a feature that simply improves the site design and ease of use. No mention has yet been made of how the classification system will impact advertising, and according to the company, no data is currently being collected. But the emoticons feature is still in its beta phase — Facebook is just waiting to see if it catches on.


Protect Your Privacy and Individuality

From tags to likes to shares, it’s natural for Facebookers to jump on the bandwagon and utilize cool new ways to construct their online persona. When our social network feels as insular and familiar as a school cafeteria, we assume there’s no harm in sharing our favorite foods, movies, and hobbies to friends.

But beware — your pithy observations and fun updates may soon become more public than you think.

Don’t want your statuses to be exploited for selling purposes? Although it’s hard to keep up with the sneaky ways that Facebook pokes holes in your privacy, there are a few measures you can take to barricade yourself from those pesky algorithms.

Don’t tag public pages in your statuses and comments and avoid liking posts made by companies or official pages. If you want to share a brand name, be sure to keep it plain-text to make it harder for the marketing robots to weed it out.

Are you frustrated with the hidden ways Facebook exposes and exploits it users? Have a suggestion for keeping your activities “off the grid” while still enjoying a social network? Be sure to let us know in the comments!


See Also

Facebook Privacy Bug Exposes 6 Million User Phone Numbers, Emails
Facebook Hoax Alert: Fake Virus Warning Scares Microsoft Windows Users
Dangerous Facebook Trojan Virus Can Empty Your Bank Account

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