Facebook Data Collection, Face Recognition and Ads
Since the Cambridge Analytica news story broke, Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have come under increasing pressure to be transparent about how Facebook collects data and how its ads operate. After an estimated 87 million Facebook users had their personal data harvested, Facebook’s Chief Executive attended a hearing at the Washington senate in the U.S. to address concerns about Facebook’s ability to protect its users’ privacy and how Facebook Business manages its advertising.
Now more than ever, Facebook needs to be seen to be taking our data and privacy seriously, this is especially important within Europe what with the imminent roll-out of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May.
In the UK, within the last week, Facebook has begun asking its users to review updates to its policies regarding:
- How Facebook uses personal data from businesses to show users relevant ads
- An option to turn on face recognition
- Its general terms, data and cookie policies
They have also published a jargon-free post on their Newsroom blog, What Information Do Facebook Advertisers Know About Me, that explains – with relative transparency – how their ads work and how they can be used to target people.
Despite the negativity that has been rife in the media and online, no doubt millions of Facebook users will accept these updates with little regard for their impact or potential impact, let alone read the finer details of the terms and conditions or a blog published by Facebook on a separate domain. Facebook is striving to appear transparent all the while making a concerted effort to be purposefully vague and keep key information – if not hidden – surreptitiously located where an average user is unlikely to find it.
How Facebook uses Personal Data from Partners
Facebook’s opt-in about how it uses personal data from partners essentially gives the user the option to carry on as they are, and they will continue to be shown ads that Facebook thinks are relevant to that individual. However, if the user chooses not to share ‘personal data from partners’ the user will still see the same number of ads, they just won’t be as
creepy relevant because the data profiling won’t be as informed.
Face recognition is being pitched as a service that will better protect its users’ identities online. However, Facebook also reveals that this technology will be used to improve and develop their services and although they give an example of ‘telling people with visual impairments who’s in a photo or video’, when a user accepts this opt-in the statement is purposefully vague, essentially giving Facebook the freedom to utilise this technology to whatever ends it chooses, not for the benefit of the visually impaired (as it implies).
The second highlighted line about showing ‘personalised content to you and others’ smacks of an enterprise that intends to utilise facial recognition beyond mere camera filters. The likelihood being that this could be utilised for their ads and if the user clicks the ‘Accept and Continue’ button, they’re essentially signing up blindly to whatever Facebook deems appropriate within these vague statements of intent. Never mind Facebook’s assertion that face recognition will be used to protect a user’s identity online, which isn’t to suggest it won’t but Facebook aren’t really being clear to what this could potentially open a user up too.
How does Facebook Target Ads
In a recent ‘Hard Questions’ blog post Rob Goldman, the Vice President of Facebook ads, has written the most transparent and jargon-free explanation of how Facebook Ads works to date.
Albeit, the blog post starts with a misjudged, passive-aggressive statement – with an air of condescension – defending its use of Ads: ‘To build a product that connects people across continents and cultures, we need to make sure everyone can afford it. Advertising lets us keep Facebook free.’
Not to mention building an influential marketing system that helped put a reality TV star in the White House and generate a revenue stream that – so far – has increased year on year.
The blog post explains how advertisers can use Facebook Ads to reach users using the following: Information from a user’s use of Facebook; Information that an advertiser shares with Facebook; and Information that websites and apps send to Facebook.
Information from a user’s use of Facebook
The things that a user shares about themselves i.e. age, sex, hometown, or friends. They can also target a user based upon a user’s interactions e.g. if you click or Like posts, Pages or articles. As Goldman clarifies, ‘We use this information to understand what you might be interested in and hopefully show you ads that are relevant.’ What Facebook is eager to stress is that the businesses that are targeting users with Ads don’t know the identity of specific individuals and that none of the information that is shared personally identifies a user.
Information that an advertiser shares with Facebook
In this instance, a business that is using Facebook Ads provides the customer information they will use to target specific users on Facebook. The ‘customer information’ could be an email address from a purchase a user made ‘or from some other data source’. Facebook is purposefully keeping that latter part as vague as possible. When an advertiser uses this method, Facebook finds accounts that match the data provided but they do not reveal to the advertiser the individuals that matched.
Information that websites and apps send to Facebook
If a Facebook user visits a website or uses an app that is using Facebook tools, then what interactions take place on the site or app can be used to make advertisers adverts more relevant. The example Goldman gives is as follows: ‘if an online retailer is using Facebook Pixel, they can ask Facebook to show ads to people who looked at a certain style of shoe or put a pair of shoes into their shopping cart.’
To opt-in or not…
Whether or not you choose to opt-in to Facebook’s latest updates, it’s clear that Facebook wants to be seen to be managing the personal data shared with it securely but this all highlights the danger around free platforms and accepting terms and conditions without understanding what you are agreeing too.
For more information on this latest update check out this thread:
#Facebook is in the process of rolling out two big opt-in updates: 'ads and data management' and 'face recognition'. In the thread below I discuss the finer points and potential impact… pic.twitter.com/8TCsYOd393
— VACATION (@SimonRogerKey) April 24, 2018
If you are still uncomfortable with the level of personal data that informs your ad experience on Facebook, then you can review your user preferences by visiting: www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/