Facebook Giving Users Some Control Over Ads, Taking Some Away
June 12, 2014

Facebook Giving Users Some Control Over Ads, Taking Some Away

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Social media giant Facebook announced this week it would change the way it displays ads. They will now provide users with an option to see why a specific ad is being displayed, and will also allow users to adjust their interest profile and make changes to lessen irrelevant ads and increase the more appealing ones.

The social network also announced it will strip away some of the control over ads and instead track a user's web and activity.

"When we ask people about our ads, one of the top things they tell us is that they want to see ads that are more relevant to their interests," Facebook posted on its newsroom page on Thursday. "Today, we learn about your interests primarily from the things you do on Facebook, such as Pages you like. Starting soon in the US, we will also include information from some of the websites and apps you use. This is a type of interest-based advertising, and many companies already do this."

Facebook gave an example of how this could be seen as a "benefit" to users.

"Let's say that you’re thinking about buying a new TV, and you start researching TVs on the web and in mobile apps," Facebook added. "We may show you ads for deals on a TV to help you get the best price or other brands to consider. And because we think you’re interested in electronics, we may show you ads for other electronics in the future, like speakers or a game console to go with your new TV."

This is somewhat in contrast to how it has traditionally relied on Facebook likes and interests when serving up ads, but also seems to contradict the very options it is introducing. That could be why the social media giant also noted it had introduced the aforementioned ad preferences that explain why users may see a specific ad and then add/remove appropriately.

"If you're not interested in electronics," the Facebook post noted, "you can remove electronics from your ad interests."

If that doesn't go far enough, Facebook further noted that users can opt out completely via the Digital Advertising Alliance opt-out page or by adjusting the tracking settings that Android and iOS devices offer.

Facebook announced the ad preferences will begin to roll out in the next few weeks.

"The changes Facebook is implementing to interest based advertising are using industry standard practices," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at NetPop Research. "Consumers are already being 're-targeted' based on their web activities. Facebook is simply leveraging massive scale and its need to monetize traffic on the site. Since free equates to advertising supported, it makes sense that all websites would want to show advertising that consumers may find more valuable than random advertising units"

However, it isn't clear if consumers actually are interested in trading personal data for more "relevant ads."

USA Today's Jessica Guynn reported how a Consumer Reports survey "found 76 percent of consumers said it was of little or no value to them that ads on the websites they visit or in the apps they use show products and services that match their interests."

Has Facebook gone too far with targeting ads?

"There are two opposing perspectives," Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Research, told redOrbit. "One is that people do want more relevant ads and sometimes ads on Facebook are not. This new behavioral targeting should improve that. But it will unnerve some people – there is an opt-out. In general, consumers, when surveyed, express discomfort or opposition to publisher tracking and behavioral targeting.

"There's a chasm or contradiction between the desire for more relevant ads and the desire not to be tracked," Sterling added. "Facebook is following, to some degree, in Google's footsteps in letting people customize their interests. However, in general, most people won't go in and actively change or adjust settings around ad categories."

Moreover, said Sterling, "The only digital ad channel or format that doesn't rely on some sort of behavioral targeting or personalization – though now it increasingly does – is search. That's because keyword matching is the trigger for relevance. All other ad formats need to rely on context and/or other passively determined targeting parameters. Facebook's search is still very immature. This move is very logical. What's also coming some time later is a Google AdSense – Display Network – competitor."

"This is another step on the slippery slope that Facebook treads," added NetPop's Crandall. "The addition of this type of targeting for advertising purposes is another distraction for users who want to catch up with friends and family. Do more 'top-down' advertising practices detract from the core Facebook experience of social interaction?"