Is Facebook Becoming Skynet?

by Robert Brady May 27th, 2013 

Much has been written about the amount of information Facebook collects and how they use it. Mark Zuckerberg flat out apologized for Facebook Beacon because the feedback was so overwhelmingly negative. Their privacy policy changes get analyzed as thoroughly as an Apple patent application. But for me, their advertising platform is doing things that are simply crazy (cool on one hand, almost scary on the other).

Facebook Ad Exchange

Most people have become aware of remarketing/retargeting in the last several months. I can ask even the most non-internet savvy person if they remember seeing ads from a site they've recently visited "following" them around the internet and get an affirmative response. They always seem pretty amazed by the technology once I explain it, but they know it's happening. Facebook Ad Exchange just takes that concept and puts it right into Facebook. AdRoll puts it's quite succinctly:

Facebook Exchange (FBX) is a new way of buying ads on Facebook through the use of real time bidding. Through FBX, advertisers can target their audience on Facebook using data collected outside of Facebook.

Okay, so maybe that doesn't scare you much. After all, you visited their site and so it's usually not an unpleasant ad. It can actually be a very pleasant ad if they're offering you an additional discount on something that you want to buy. But Facebook is a publicly held company and as such they're looking for even more ways to market to their users. Enter Partner Categories.

Facebook Partner Categories

Let's start out with the official stuff:

To date, advertisers have been able to show ads to people based on their expressed interests on Facebook. Now with partner categories, they can also show ads to people on Facebook based on the products and brands they buy across both desktop and mobile.

Partner categories uses data from select third parties including Acxiom, Datalogix, and Epsilon. No personal information is shared between Facebook, third parties or advertisers. Partner categories work the same way all targeting on Facebook works. The advertiser only knows the size of the audience and cant access any information about individuals included in a category.

While that may not seem interesting, look at some examples of what advertisers can now target:
Facebook Partner Categories
Facebook Partner Exchange
This 3rd party data coming from Acxiom, Datalogix, and Epsilon is providing data on what you purchase offline. In the grocery store and car lots. And the option is only available through their Power Editor and API. Almost like they're trying to hide it from the public at large.

I blogged in the past about how I though Google was going to become Skynet with the rollout of Google+. My argument was that adding demographic data to search intent would give them the leg up in the advertising world. However, I'm starting to believe that Facebook, by integrating 3rd party data providers into their platform, could be close to surpassing Google in their "creepiness".

What do you think? Is targeting getting too sophisticated? Are consumers just too naive?

Robert Brady

Robert Brady is the head PPC wizard at Righteous Marketing, a Google AdWords Certified Partner and Microsoft adExcellence Member. He manages PPC accounts for both small and large businesses and offers a PPC training program for the DIYer.

Righteous Marketing

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