We’ve all heard someone say it: “I think Facebook is listening to me.”
Eerily well-timed ads continue to fuel this conspiracy theory despite Facebook’s claims that it does not listen to users for advertising purposes (they have, however, admitted to hiring contractors to transcribe voice data).
The simple truth is that Facebook offers very robust targeting for advertisers. We can target our prospective audiences based on a variety of factors including their education, finances, life events, relationships, occupation, location, interests and online behaviors. All of these factors allow advertisers to get quite granular with targeting, which can make users think that we’re reading their minds (or spying through their microphones).
Right now, the online behavior that Facebook uses for targeting includes activity both on and off of the platform. Activity from outside of the platform is gathered via cookies and can include information like what you were recently searching for; where you shop online; what items you browse; what apps you use; etc.. Third parties install the Facebook Pixel (for websites) or the Facebook SDK (for apps) to track user behavior and use it for retargeting ads.
Facebook groups users under “interests” determined by data collected from these cookies in addition to their activity on the platform. Whereas users are generally willing to provide their demographic and basic interests information to Facebook, many are unaware of how much additional information they are sharing, leading to that creepy feeling when they see an ad in their feed for a product they were just talking about.
You’ve likely heard by now that Facebook has been taking heat for questionable data and privacy practices. In August, Facebook announced in a blog post that they will soon give users the ability to see the off-Facebook activity associated with their account and opt out of it being used for advertising purposes. Opting out will disconnect the information that has already been collected from their account. Note that it will not necessarily be removed from Facebook, but rather further anonymized. Once opted out, a user’s future activity will continue to be collected by Facebook, but it won’t include any identifying information and can’t be used for targeting.
In the announcement, Facebook says, “We are starting by gradually making Off-Facebook Activity available to people in Ireland, South Korea and Spain. We will continue to roll it out everywhere over the coming months to help ensure it’s working reliably for everyone.” There’s no word yet when it will be available in the United States.
This is good news for users concerned about their digital privacy. But what does it mean for advertisers? What is doesn’t mean is that we should give up on Facebook as a powerful advertising platform. Although prospects may opt out of their off-Facebook activity, their on-Facebook activity is still fair game for targeting. According to Brandwatch, 30 percent of global internet users use Facebook several times a day. That’s a lot of online behavior that’s still useful to advertisers.
Never fear, fellow advertisers. Targeting on Facebook may be getting slightly more complicated, but there’s never been a better time to review your strategy and make a plan for increasing on-platform engagement. And don’t uninstall your Facebook Pixel just yet – chances are many users won’t opt out after all.