Privacy Advocates Leery Of New Facebook-Nielsen Partnership
July 15, 2014

Privacy Advocates Leery Of New Facebook-Nielsen Partnership

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe online

Nielsen is leveraging an expanded partnership with Facebook to learn more about the age and gender of viewers on mobile devices.

In an ever more connected age, one could not be faulted for thinking that one of the last bastions of privacy would be in their television viewing. The announcement today of a new partnership between Nielsen and Facebook, however, is just another example of how our privacy is being systematically sacrificed in favor of continued user commoditization.

Nielsen has, for decades, tracked the television viewing habits of American families through the use of in-home monitoring. As media consumption models have rapidly changed over the previous few years, Nielsen has struggled to adjust to the new environment. More and more, people are turning to their second screens, (laptops, tablets, phones, etc.) to watch their favorite movies and television shows.

In 2010, the two companies initially joined forces, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, to collect data based on which online advertising people were viewing on their computers. The relative youth of mobile technology made the collection of similar data far more difficult until today.

As Nielsen executive vice president Cheryl Idell noted, “The world is shifting radically, and so we had to evolve our measurement so that we could capture all of this fragmented viewing.”

Facebook's role in the partnership will be to scan their databases and provide Nielsen with the age and gender of the viewer using their mobile device to consume media. An additional partnership between Nielsen and the marketing arm of the credit reporting agency, Experian, will flesh out the particulars of theses audiences thanks to the company's vast collection of data it holds on almost every American.

This partnership announcement comes on the heels of another recent action by the social network where they participated in a study that effectively manipulated the emotions of nearly 700,000 users without their knowledge or consent to be studied.

Both Nielsen and Facebook stress the fact the process they have designed, meant to be similar to a double-blind study, will shield the identities of each individual user. Facebook will receive show data in the form of a numerical code. Nielsen will receive data back in aggregate so that individual user's identities will remain anonymous, but for age and gender.

It's clear to see why the two company's have joined forces, too.

As reported by redOrbit's own Peter Suciu last week, the US leads the globe in terms of per capita advertising expense. The market cap for the industry is $140 billion and is expected only to rise in the coming years.

"Americans are using more devices than ever before to watch video content, and the number of content producers has proliferated," said Lyle Schwartz, a managing partner of the advertising behemoth Group M. "That fragments the audience." On the other hand, "it also gives advertisers the ability to target their messages."

This finely-tuned targeting of advertising is but one reason why privacy advocates are leery of this latest partnership. “It's interesting to me that I'm watching a video somewhere and somehow Facebook knows that,” commented Chris Conley of the American Civil Liberties Union.

If Conley finds this prospect interesting then Julia Horwitz of the Electronic Privacy Information Center might better be described as legitimately disturbed by the new trend.

“Consumers really are not aware of the extent to which Facebook is putting their non-Facebook activity to use,” she stated. “Watching television and surfing the Internet shouldn't necessarily involve Facebook.”


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