Facebook Opens Photo Feature to Product Placement

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Facebook's latest change is subtle (no, your News Feed isn't getting another overhaul), but could have a significant impact on how we use the social networking service -- and how the company monetizes its hundreds of millions of users. Starting today, you could begin seeing that not only are your friends tagged in pictures, but so, too, are products, places and more.

Initially, this feature -- the ability to tag more than just friends -- will only supports Pages that are categorized as People (think journalists, celebrities, musicians and other public figures with Pages to organize and inform their followers) or Brands & Products (that beer you're chugging at a recent party). But Facebook plans to "expand this functionality to more Page categories over time," according to an official post on the site.

"A Page can be tagged anywhere that someone can view a photo in the photo viewer," Facebook explained. "These photos will appear on the Photos tab on the Page, and not on the Wall. In addition, a Page can be tagged by anyone on Facebook, not just people who have Liked your Page." This is a significant change. Previously, Facebook users were only able to tag people, and those people had to be friends with the person who posted the original photo. You don't have to support -- or Like -- a brand or public figure in order to tag it or them in your albums. Still, the act of tagging a Page could help to drive traffic to it and increase its fan base.

"Photos is Facebook's most popular native application, receiving huge numbers of Page views," according to Inside Facebook, a blog that covers every change to the social networking site. "Tags of Pages in Photos could gain many impressions from a user's friends over a long period of time, offering many opportunities for that Page to gain new fans. Tagged photos also often appear in the news feed generating additional impressions for the Page's link."

Some Facebook users are worried about the possibility of spam, that many of those additional impressions won't be the ones that they want. "VERY BAD IDEA," one wrote in the comments for the post announcing the new feature. "This will render pages vulnerable to spam and rogue apps which often use photo tagging." Others agreed: "Yay, more ways to spam!"

If Facebook can control the spam issues, there's no question that it will soon find a way to monetize this new feature, adding sponsored tags or building out its auto-recognition feature to spot not just faces, but also products like that can of Coca-Cola seen in the photo above, which was provided by Facebook. It's conceivable that, soon enough, you won't need to tag the Pages in your photos, but that Facebook will do it for you, demanding that, once you're photographed with an object, you're forever associated with it. Coke would love that.

Image: Facebook.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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