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Your Facebook 'Likes' are now paid ads

Continuing to fulfill its unspoken agreement with users to regularly provide them with new things to protest, Facebook is testing a new advertising program in which the things you "Like" are turned into advertisements in your friends' feeds. Same goes for locations where you check in.

Oh, and you can't opt out.

It's not everything you "Like," of course — just the items with commercial potential. Say you give Starbucks the "thumbs up" or check-in to Starbucks on Facebook Places. (That's the example AdAge uses in its report on the new ad system, because hey, everybody goes to Starbucks.)

If Starbucks is participating in the "sponsored story" ad program, your friends receive double-notification of your fandom: An update in your friend's newsfeed (because hey, everybody loves spam) and a "sponsored story" ad with your name, and possibly your comment, in the "Meet hot singles in your area," section of their Facebook page.

What can you do about it? Not a whole lot.

If you "Like" something branded, your friends may very well hear about it. As before, you do have the option of controlling which Facebook friends show up in your newsfeed. So if you've got someone who "Likes" or checks in to brands to an annoying degree, there's that.  

Oh, and you can also be "inappropriate" — not that you should.

"The way that the product is today, a check-in post will show up in the ad feed exactly as the user wrote it," AdAge points out. "So if a user checks into Starbucks with, 'I hate this place, but it's the only coffee around' then that's exactly what the 'ad' turns out to be."

Once Internet pranksters wrap their hive mind around this potential, "I hate this place," will be the least of Starbuck's worries. That's why advertisers also have the option of only allowing "Likes" without comments on the "sponsored stories."

If your options seem comparatively slim, it's because this new Facebook app is about the advertiser, not you. Remember, we may use it for free, but Facebook is in business to make money, and it's in a unique position to do so.

Word of mouth is one of the best ways for a brand to get its word out – we tend to check out, if not full-on trust, the things our friends endorse, more so than things in paid advertising.

Until the advent of social media, word of mouth has been a tricky force for brands to harness. But in its ongoing attempt to monetize the word of mouth, Facebook may eventually stumble into MySpace territory.

Just as MySpace's migraine-inducing glitter gifts made Facebook's once clean lines seem preferable, the annoyance of our friend's unwitting advertising spam may open up the market for a cleaner platform calling our collective name.

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Helen A.S. Popkin writes about Facebook ... a lot. Follow her on Twitter and/or Facebook