Facebook to Use Web Browsing History for Behaviorally Targeted Ads

Facebook Changing How They Target AdsDue to the all too familiar “like” buttons gracing the web, it has been quite easy for Facebook to monitor the online behavior of its 1.28 billion monthly users. Now the company will begin leveraging this wealth of information for ad targeting. Unlike BK’s new slogan, this one is a little trickier to take a stand on.

Facebook already provides retargeting for advertisers using their services. This strategy delivers targeted ads to users who have visited specific websites and apps. Interested advertisers only need to affix the tracking software to their products to reap the benefits of retargeting (in some ways it’s reminiscent of the power of jingles).

The newly enabled ad targeting metric will be far more expansive in terms of its usage of user driven data. Facebook has decided not to honor the do-not-track setting on web browsers (a decision that will surely ruffle some feathers). One spokesman for the social network has said there is currently no consensus in the industry. Competitors like Pinterest and Twitter honor the do-not-track setting, but Yahoo and Google don’t.

(However, Facebook does plan to to limit ad tracking on Android and iOS devices.)

Historical Ad Targeting on Facebook

The social network traditionally based their ad targeting on what users themselves had chosen to acknowledge as their profile likes and interests. Advertisers could also target demographics based on specific Facebook pages that users had “liked”.

Moving forward, Facebook will be leveraging passive data (mostly compiled of what users search for on their PCs and smartphones) in order to better target ads. This will allow advertisers to deliver their ads to a targeted audience with much greater accuracy.

“There’s just a more robust set of information that informs that you’re interested in camping,” explains Brian Boland, Facebook’s VP of ads product marketing.

Tracking Your “Likes” Across the Web

Tracking Your Likes Across the WebWith the presence of Facebooks “like” button on a vast number of sites across the web, the company has been able to collect a lot of passive data. Interestingly, Facebook doesn’t plan to include data collected via desktop likes to the targeting mix at the moment (although it’ll incorporate this down the road).

Starting out, it will grab websites which have included the company’s conversion tracking pixel (allows advertisers to track their FB ads traffic and sales) and mobile apps that use their software development kit to deploy various Facebook services. Sites and apps that have encoded the company’s tracking software to retarget users are also going to be included.

According to Boland, the usage of passive data should help advertisers relying on direct responses to make their efforts more relevant to their target demographic.

“Their ROI should improve and make them a more effective advertiser on Facebook,” says Boland.

Softening the Blow

Facebook Rolling Out New Privacy ControlsIn order to soften the backlash against this usage of passive data, Facebook is launching much better privacy controls for their users. Of course, this will likely not distract that many people from the fact that they are deciding to not honor the do-not-track browser setting for that long.

Facebook is also including a new “ads preferences” settings page which users can get to from every ad. Users can ask to not be shown ads based on their “inferred” interest in specific categories. They can also choose to opt out of behaviorally-targeted ads.

“For as long as Facebook has sold advertising, people have been wary about what Facebook has been doing with their data,” explains eMarketer’s leading analyst Debra Aho Williamson. “By making these two announcements together, Facebook is saying, yes, we’re gathering more data to target, but you have control over what data we’re able to use.”

The social network plans on launching the “ad preferences” tool in the U.S. in two weeks time. However, they have not released a definitive date for the commencement of using passive date to target their ads.