Facebook adds third-party website data to ad targeting profiles

By EDRi · June 18, 2014

Facebook announced in a blog post on 12 June 2014 that it will start expanding its users’ advertising data by letting marketers target ads based not only on users’ activities on the social network, but also on third-party websites.

By clicking on an arrow in the corner of the ads, a user can see the main attributes than led to the ad being shown. In theory, users will be able to access their “ad preferences” record and modify it by removing unwanted interest categories or adding more suitable ones – if they know the option exists, if they don’t delete the cookie that will store the preferences, if they do this on every machine that they use, and if Facebook respects the choices made. Getting completely rid of ads is still not possible; if a user deletes all the preferences collected, Facebook will simply show more generic ads based on the user’s basic information, such as location, gender and age.

Facebook has already previously maintained internal advertising profiles of its users, built according to their comments and “likes” within the network. It has also had access to the data on external websites and mobile apps its members are using, but it has so far not been used to target ads.

The change applies first to Facebook’s American users who can expect to have access to their profiles within the next few weeks, and it will be introduced around the world in coming months.

Only a few years ago even Facebook itself criticised such practices. However, it now explains the change by users’ will to see ads better compatible with their interests.

“The thing that we have heard from people is that they want more targeted advertising. The goal is to make it clear to people why they saw the ad,”

commented Brian Boland, Facebook’s vice president in charge of ads product marketing.

Integrating users’ activities on third-party website into their ad targeting profiles has predictably inflamed concerns about personal privacy. Giving users a bit more control over their data can be seen as a way to quell these concerns.

“The privacy announcements — are a political smokescreen to enable Facebook to engage in more data gathering. They claim to protect user privacy at the same time as they work to undermine it,”

said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, an American consumer protection and privacy organisation.

Asking its users to provide more accurate information on their preferences can be profitable to Facebook, as having a receptive audience willing to see ads relevant to them is more likely to interest marketers.

“Who in his right mind wouldn’t want relevant ads over irrelevant ads?”

said Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. However, he reminded that gathering more accurate information on its users is increasing Facebook’s power:

“It’s more likely to help Facebook than you.”

Facebook announced it will also provide a link to an industry website allowing them to not have their activities on third-party websites and their mobile app use tracked.

Making ads better and giving people more control over the ads they see (12.06.2014)

Facebook to let users alter their ad profiles (12.06.2014)

Facebook expands users’ ad targeting profiles with website data (12.06.2014)

Facebook brings in a new, eerily accurate form of ad (12.06.2014)

Facebook makes everything better – for itself (only in Dutch, 12.06.2014)

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