Behind the Privacy News: Facebook's Ad Policy Changes
A bit ago, Facebook changed their ad policies, and the press went wild. Why does an ad policy at Facebook make every media outlet go nuts? Should you care?
One of our services at Blackphone will be to give you analysis behind the privacy news you'll see everywhere.
Facebook is, in a way, more of an open marketplace than eBay, which was conceived of as the bazaar or open square of the middle east.
Facebook is the center of social life and gossip, where merchants call for your attention from every little corner where they set up shop in the swirl of humanity.
CNBC had a great article on what that really means.
Facebook has more monthly users than India – the worlds 2nd most populous country – has people. That's a billion more users than Twitter's 1.28 billion, in case you thought Twitter was coming up from behind.
And more than a billion of Facebookers, for the first time ever this year, are on mobile. That's one in seven people – more or less – on Earth.
It's not for the quality of the user-generated content on Facebook (I prefer g+). But it does account for why advertisers want to know the demographics of that audience. That's a staggering slice of the global commercial public, and that demographic must have at least some money to spend, and some literacy.
Access to us pays for a lot of servers, staff, and paperclips at Facebook through ad sales. The freemium model.
From an online marketer's point of view, Facebook is where to be – far more attractive in many ways than Google's AdWords, because Facebook's audience is emotionally engaged in content while they are on the site, which improves chances of getting us to notice an ad in their interest, over scanning a list of links in intellectual detachment.
Recently you may have seen a lot of news about how Facebook is putting web bugs on users, tracking their web browsing, and targeting ads to them based on that. But, they were quick to follow up, they are also giving users a lot of control over which ads they want to see, in which categories.
You can just go into Google News, there are thousands of articles on this. I encourage you to browse.
Facebook may be tracking users more, or they may just be talking more about the tracking they've been doing for a while. At the RSA conference last February, they were talking about how they were tracking users but only to customize their experience, not to serve ads. So although you might have thought this would have been in the works then -- it must be new.
On the other hand, they are doing something right – giving users more information on what's tracked and which ads will and will not be targeted to them. For the most part, you don't have that kind of control with advertising platforms such as Google AdWords, or most mobile advertising services. You see them, or you block them or ignore them.
This is a step in the right direction for big data freemium services. Clarity, transparency to the user base, and finer grained control mechanisms for users will keep users from using ad blockers, and keep government regulators at bay.
It's good to see a real giant like Facebook taking steps in this direction.
Traditionally, Facebook and Google have taken some tone-deaf steps on user privacy, sometimes leading to compromises in user security, and real embarrassment, PR disasters, and government fines. While the fines are largely symbolic on their bottom lines, they can't look good to their press and reputations.
For a freemium business, reputation is key to building and retaining a “cool factor” and audience. No market, no business. Our eyes, and dollars, go elsewhere. So it's enlightened self interest to give control to us, their users.
Facebook gets fees from companies who gain access to their users as a gaming currency or advertising base, so the demographics – the targeting so that those companies don't waste paying Facebook fees to try to sell ads for games, products or services to poor prospects at a low return on their dollar – is the intel that gives them bragging rights and makes them a good deal to more and more businesses. And this is how they can afford to give users the largest free social network in the world.
I noticed over the past couple weeks that a few articles took it as news that Facebook does not honor “Do not track” browser requests from users. That's been true of Google and Facebook for some time. The claim from Google's senior policy counsel that “Do not track” requests confuse users falls a little short, and now, Facebook's panelist's claim in February that they only use the data for experience enhancement – when this decision was obviously in the works at that time – seems a little coy, but was likely honoring confidential company plans.
If other big data freemium companies are smart, they'll invest more in programs that are more transparent and give the user more control over their own preferences and data, and educate users on what they sign on for, and what the value of privacy exchanged for services is, at every stage.