I recently started a website marketing a certain product. Technically, Facebook advertising allows for me to target my competitor(s) “fans” on facebook (fans = those who in the past clicked that they “like” a website and are usually strong potential customers). What is the halachic opinion regarding using this type of advertising?
It is permitted to use the Facebook tool of targeting ‘fans’.
Sources: In principle, the Gemara, followed by halachic authorities, sanctions various forms of advertising as being a legitimate means of attracting customers (Bava Basra 21b; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228:18). The free market is viewed by Chazal as being something positive.
However, a number of authorities cite the Mordechai (Bava Basra 515), who writes that one must not pilfer somebody else’s clients — a concept referred to a maarofia. Yet, this is specifically applied to long term, established clients, and might not apply to somebody who has merely taken an interest in a product.
In addition, the reasons given for the prohibition are 1. it can be compared to fish that have been attracted by somebody’s bait, which others may not now catch (at the original fisherman’s expense), and 2. it is considered a case of ani hamehapech bechararah (see Yam Shel Shlomo, Kiddushin 3:2). In our case, it is hard to apply these rationales, because users of Facebook know that other users will be given access to potential customers interested in the product, and they use Facebook knowing that others will be given the option of using them. In other words, somebody placing a “bait” on facebooks knows that others will be able to benefit from the fish it brings in, and cannot have any claim against the subsequent use.