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Working for Facebook – Behavioural Advertising

Posted by on June 15, 2015.

We often say of services like Facebook that if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing: social media sites are, in general, there to make a profit, and serving advertisements to you on behalf of their real customers provides their revenue stream, so you may consider that an acceptable trade-off. However, if you are one of the many users of Facebook – 1.44 billion of them as of Q1/2015, according to Statista – and you haven’t noticed how closely it tracks the way you (and your friends) use the web so as to serve you advertising material, you might be surprised to know that Facebook may also be using your name (and possibly your profile photograph) to persuade your friends to take an interest in products and services that you’ve looked at. Or as Facebook puts it:

Everyone wants to know what their friends like. That’s why we pair adverts and friends — an easy way to find products and services you’re interested in, based on what your friends share and like.

Certainly Jefferson Graham was pretty surprised. He wrote in USA Today that:

I was stunned to hear that my name was being used by Facebook in sponsored posts. I thought I had taken care of updating the privacy settings some time ago.

When he checked with some of his friends, he found that they too were surprised and discomfited to find that their names and (in some cases) profile photos were being used to promote products. One said “I didn’t consent to this,” but as Graham pointed out:

Actually she did, even though she didn’t, by not going in and tweaking her settings.

It’s never safe to assume that Facebook and other social media are not going to make use of data relating to you without asking you first.

You can find out more about what data Facebook is collecting on the Data Policy page here. And here’s Facebook’s own example of what a sponsored ad can look like:

facebook advert copy

I hasten to point out that I have never heard of Denver sushi, so if it really exists, I must regretfully decline to recommend it in real life…

The USA Today article does give you instructions on how to change your settings so that Facebook doesn’t pair your ‘social actions’ with adverts to display to your friends, as does a Facecrooks post, more succinctly.

As pointed out by both USA Today and Facecrooks, Facebook also directs you to pages that enable you to exercise some control over the companies that use your data to deliver online behavioural advertising (ads customized in accordance with the way you use the web, for better targeting). If you haven’t already looked at these, you might be surprised at how many companies are entitled to serve adverts to you if you don’t opt out. You’re probably unfamiliar with many of the company names listed there, but those companies seem to provide marketing services to many, many other companies.

The opt-out sites to which FB points include the Digital Advertising Alliance (USA), the Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada  and the European Digital Advertising Alliance.

David Harley


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