Up on the stage the man from Facebook seemed to be delivering some much appreciated news: One could, in fact, hide the advertisements that are increasingly popping up in the News Feeds of users of the world's largest social network.
"The primary pillar for Facebook on privacy is control," Goku Rajaram, Facebook's product director for ads, said on Tuesday during the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York. "Users have control over what ads they see and there's an 'x' next to every ad, which you can use to not show those ads to you later or to not show any ads from that advertiser. So we fundamentally believe in user control as a pillar on which our privacy principles are based."
No more ads for teeth whitening from dental students at NYU? No more ads asking me if I want to meet sexy singles online? It sounded good enough to me, so I decided to test it out.
It's fairly easy to tell Facebook you don't want to see ads from certain companies, but as soon as you do it more than a couple of times, it turns into busywork and seems more trouble than it's worth.
If you see an ad that you don't want to see any longer, either in your News Feed or in the column to the right of your News Feed, mouse over the ad. For ads in the News Feed, like page and product suggestions, an arrow appears with a dropdown menu. For ads to the right of your News Feed, an "x" appears in the top right corner. Clicking either one of these gives the user the option to "hide" the ad.
After hiding some stories in my News Feed, like one from HP, I was able to click "Hide all stories from HP." A message came up saying that "Posts from HP will no longer appear in your News Feed."
Others, like one for the suggested page for the film "Pacific Rim," didn't give me that option -- it only hid it in my News Feed, leading me to think that perhaps I'll see another suggestion for "Pacific Rim" sometime in the future.
Indicating to Facebook that you no longer want to see certain ads in the right rail requires one additional step: You must also tell Facebook why you don't want to see an ad by filling in one of seven bubbles. "Uninteresting," "Misleading," "Sexually explicit," "Against my views," "Offensive," "Repetitive" or "Other" are your options. And if you think that clicking "other" is an easy answer, think again: You must enter text in the "other" box in order to get that ad -- or company -- removed from your feed.
This will by no means remove all ads from your feed. Facebook relies on advertising, of course, to make money; in the fourth quarter of 2012, 84 percent of the company's revenue came from ads.
And while purging your News Feed of ads from some companies is possible, it's a bit like a game of Whac-a-mole; every time you click "hide" on an ad, a new ad appears in its place.
The greatest irony out of all this busywork, though, is that each time you tell Facebook you don't like an ad -- because it's not relevant to you or because you're not interested -- you're actually giving Facebook more information about you so that it can even better target ads to you in the future.
By clicking "hide this ad" so many times, I've effectively told Facebook I'm not interested in anything other than cycling. Now, nearly every ad I see in Facebook's right column is for a bike, ride or cycling product.
You win again, Facebook. You win again.