There are plenty of embarrassing pictures teenagers willingly post of themselves on Facebook, but when marketers start using those shots for marketing purposes, things can get sticky.

Especially when they end up on a site like and then back in a Facebook ad. Oops.

According to Forbes, affiliate marketers on Facebook are nabbing photos off the service to put in their ads:

"In this particular case, Mylife's affiliate advertiser had grabbed an image from a dodgier site called, evident from a tiny logo in the lower right hand corner. And Jailbait Gallery, in turn, frequently scrapes the Web for its content--in other words, pulling pictures from sites where people might have posted provocative or alluring pictures of themselves or their friends. Jailbait Gallery's main stock in trade: It aggregates picture of semi-nude and scantily clad girls and encourages users to vote on how young they think the subjects are. The pictures that wound up as part of the Facebook ad campaign were voted by the Jailbait Gallery crowd to be around 16 years old."

While it may make people uncomfortable to look at ads of scantily clad teens, neither Facebook nor MyLife broke any policy with the ads, and this kind of thing is likely to continue to some degree with affiliate advertising.  

Facebook does not want to encourage the use of illegal images, but it has no mechanism to find them. A MyLife executive in charge of affiliate marketers explained that "a very small fraction of 1% of [our marketing] traffic... would be promoting those kinds of images."

While it's a small problem on the network, there's little that can be done about it. Facebook and its partners are relying on an honor system to ensure that images on the network are not used illegally. Unless someone recognizes a photo and makes a formal complaint, there's no way to stop a photo from going around the net.  

According to Facebook: "copyright owners can fill out an online form and Facebook will take action within 24 hours."

In the case of personal images, that can get uncomfortable. But individuals have to use common sense when posting pictures online. Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran tells Forbes:

"You have to be very careful about the images you put up there, because you may end up in an ad somewhere. It's unfortunate, but the exploitation can happen to just about anybody."

Meghan Keane

Published 30 September, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (1)



You can see why they do it... It's certainly more eye-catching to see a friend's photo than some random's, simply due to the fact that the user will recognise the person in the photo.

It certainly grabbed my attention when my fiancée's Facebook profile was used on an advert for a FB dating application. It's a good thing I was already aware that Facebook had given the go-ahead to use people's uploaded images in its adverts, otherwise I would've been a bit concerned...!

almost 9 years ago

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