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Privacy Blind: Opting Out of Social Ads

By Jared Correia

Many lawyers, especially solo practitioners, use personal accounts on social media platforms to market themselves and their practices. But now that “social ads” are on the scene—what else are they selling?

Generalizing broadly, lawyers engage social media for marketing more or less depending on their feelings respecting two flashpoint issues: ease of use and price, and security of data. In a tight economy, those who prioritize cost savings and simplicity of interface and interaction are more likely to use social media for marketing—the major social media platforms are all free. Those whose chief concerns hover around data security (and these people most often wish to have “full” control over their business information) are less likely to engage social media or web-based systems.

Most lawyers who fret over security are usually worried about the potential release of their client’s information: some hacker infiltrating a third-party network, or some monolithic Internet concern turning over client data based on a government subpoena. Less often expressed is an uneasiness over the use of personal data and account information. And, outside of the myopic legal construct, the most important issue related to the Internet is protection of personal privacy, or the continual staving off of the Airstrip One society.

Of course, nothing is ever really free. If users of social media aren’t paying to play, somebody’s got to foot the bill. Social media outlets have massive numbers of users and virtual reams of personal information respecting those users. So the answer to the funding question becomes obvious: Advertisers pay for much of your access to social media. To keep that revenue stream flowing, social media providers must think about (1) how to keep prevailing advertisers interested; and (2) devising methods to attract new advertisers. To satisfy both requirements, social media platforms have begun to utilize social ads.

What’s a Social Ad?

Well, social ads are targeted advertisements based on online networking patterns. Ads are targeted to you based on your activity. Those clickable banner advertisements in Gmail are a good example. Ads about you are targeted to others based on your activity.

Wait, now … hold the phone. Ads about me? That’s correct. Ads about you. Both Facebook and LinkedIn opt their users into social ads. Facebook was first, rolling out its social ads campaign this past March. PC World offers a nice run-down of the Facebook version, including screenshots. Basically, it works like this: Facebook thinks that if you “like”something, it’s more likely that your friends, when informed that you “like” that something, will buy that something.

Facebook describes how this is awesome for you and your friends. But mostly it’s awesome for Facebook, because they’re offering more targeted = more better ads, for which advertisers are (theoretically) willing to pay more money. In fact, the only ones losing out on the deal are those users who haven’t opted out, and who are, unbeknownst to them, slinging products that they may never have used or that they don’t, actually, recommend. I would have loved to have seen Amoco gas try to pull this crap on Johnny Cash back in the early 1970s.

With a view to the profit potential inherent in this arrangement, LinkedIn opted its users into its own version of social ads in June. However, the wider web thus spake, and LinkedIn was backpedaling by August, removing users’ profile photos and names from social ads. The whole, sordid tale is relayed via the New York Times Gadgetwise blog.

So What Can You Do? 

In light of what appears to be retrenchment on the concept of social ads (both Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s systems have been tweaked, not removed), there are a couple of solutions, only one of which is practical. Users can either (1) stop liking things on Facebook and following things on LinkedIn—but then why have an account?, or (2) opt out of the social ads. The second option is far more practical.

  • Facebook. Within Facebook’s Account Settings, under the Facebook Ads tab, select “no one” from the dropdown at Edit Social Ads Settings, then save. (Do the same for ‘Edit Third Party Ad Settings’ while you’re at it.)
  • LinkedIn. Within your LinkedIn account’s Privacy Controls, under the Manage Social Advertising tab, unclick “LinkedIn may use my name/photo in social advertising,” and save. (Do the same for ‘The LinkedIn Audience Network may show me enhanced advertising” while you’re at it.)

The addition, in the past six months, of social ads default settings within two of the major social media platforms underscores a point that is not unique to the Internet: If you don’t pay attention, people (especially fictional persons, like large companies) will take advantage of you. Part of being a zealous advocate for your own online privacy is performing regularly recurring check-ups on the terms of use and account settings for the systems you use. But, that’s not entirely a solo gig: There are always Internet provocateurs seeking for the next privacy misstep taken by a highly visible social media outlet. Check in on sites like Mashable and Social Media Today, to get the straight dope on what Facebook is trying next. And LinkedIn. Oh, and Twitter. And Google+. Because, you can bet your bottom-most dollar that, if default social ads are effective within Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ will not be long in adopting similar protocols within their systems. They will want to compete, on a level playing field, for those targeted advertising dollars.

Reductio ad Absurdum

Third-party Internet vendors already have access to all of the information you cede them. The big providers, like Google and Facebook, already review your information for targeting ads to you. Social ads allow these companies to target ads starring you to your online friends, which is not so big a deal, because you can opt out, right? But, the real question is: What happens when there is no opt-out? Will you trade the slivering privacy of your online life, slicing ever-larger into the pie chart of what you do and who you are, for the convenience of a platform that ends up speaking for you?

Jared D. Correia is the law practice advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. Prior to joining LOMAP, he was the Publications Attorney for the Massachusetts Bar Association. Before that, he worked as a private practice lawyer. Jared is a graduate of Suffolk University Law School and of Saint Anselm College, where he was a captain of the debate squad that finished as national runner-up in 2000. He loves James Taylor.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Social Media, Legal Technology
Originally published September 7, 2011
Last updated May 11, 2020
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Jared Correia Jared Correia

Jared D. Correia is CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting services, and works with legal vendors to develop programming and content. Jared is also COO of Gideon Software, Inc., which offers intelligent messaging and predictive analytics software built exclusively for law firms. A former practicing attorney, Jared is the host of the Legal Toolkit podcast and speaks frequently at industry events. In addition to his Attorney at Work column, Managing, he writes an advice column for Lawyerist and on tech startups for Above the Law. Follow him @JaredCorreia.

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