At some point in time, I registered for Facebook Marketplace. Honestly, I don't recall doing it, but apparently I did.
And because of my apparent registration, the Marketplace surprised me this week when it sent me an unsolicited e-mail, announcing that 300 friends of my friends had posted classified ads on Facebook.
Everything from apartments, car stereos and armoires to flea, tick and mosquito treatments, facial and body treatments and life insurance.
My friends, or at least their friends, are out there peddling their wares in big numbers.
Goodbye, anonymous classified ads.
Hello, my friend. How are the kids? And about that sofa you have listed …
Over the last 30 days, Facebook rolled out the new e-mail feature that advertises listings by those you're connected to via the operator of the Marketplace, Oodle, an online classified ad service based in San Mateo, Calif.
Craig Donato, Oodle's founder, the company that runs the Marketplace for Facebook, says with this classified ad service, consumers become empowered in ways they haven't been in the past. There's a level of accountability that makes sellers more responsible because the buyer knows them and their friends.
"In Marketplace, you can always see who's at the other end selling," Donato said. "You can see how you're connected to the seller."
This can be great for consumers in protection against scams. Part of the trouble for consumers who make purchases over the Internet is that they don't know anything about the person who is selling them products.
Scam artists, sometimes using fake personal and company information, often take consumers' money and disappear into cyberspace.
"Presumably on Facebook you will be able to verify that they're real people," said Kevin Jackson, chief investigator for the Hillsborough Consumer Protection Agency.
And if a friend of a friend starts harassing you with some bogus business venture, you can say, "Get your friend off my back with these work-at-home opportunities."
(That also sounds like some broken relationships in the making.)
Like online classified ad giant Craigslist, the Facebook Marketplace offers free ad postings to consumers. Businesses pay a fee.
There's a threshold that prevents consumers from running a business, but pretending to appear as an individual selling a single product. For example, consumers can post up to two cars for sale at one time, but after that must register on a business level.
However, for all the similarities to Craigslist as a online classified ad provider, Donato does not view Facebook Marketplace as in competition with Craigslist.
"What we're doing is something very different from Craigslist," Donato said. "Who the other person is (in Facebook Marketplace) is as important as what's being sold. It's kind of its own thing."
We've reached a third level in classified sales with the first level as "e-commerce" through Monster.com and Cars.com; the second level Craigslist; now the third level, social, Donato said.
Still, there's no denying the potential impact of a classified ad system among 500 million Facebook users.
Facebook turned operations of the 3-year-old Marketplace to Oodle last year. And now the various giants are forming a mega operation.
Donato says Oodle, now in its fifth year, is backed by venture capitalists Greylock, which backs Facebook, LinkedIn and Digg, and Red Point, which backs Netflix, MySpace and TiVo.
With that kind of support, this isn't likely to be just a passing fad.
So here's the Edge:
• Check your privacy settings. Even in the Facebook Marketplace itself, you can decide what level of participation you want, if any. You can unsubscribe to e-mails, fix the social circle you get messages about to "friends" or "friends of friends," or choose not to register at all.
• Remember information over the Internet is subject to becoming public. So watch what you make available to even your friends because their friends might have access to it, too.
• Verify the product and information. Even though it's a friend or the friend of a friend, make sure what has been advertised is in fact what you're getting.
Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.