The social networking site Facebook is planning to to enter the behavioral targeting game, letting marketers customize their ads for the millions of Facebook customers who visit the site daily. Given the “mountain of information” users openly divulge on the site, Facebook very well could win the targeted advertising game.
Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have all recently announced varying plans to engage in behavioral targeting of their users in order to target advertising messages. These search engine giants collect and mine bits of information about me based on my searches, my profile, or my activities on other properties (whether I play fantasy football, for example) in order to create behavioral profile. It involves a certain amount of guesswork since just because I happen to search for “Paris Hilton” doesn’t mean I really care about the celebrity and that I really want to see advertisemens related to her.
Facebook, however, has access to a much more precise snapshot of my interests. The groups I join might reveal my geographic location, my favorite sports teams, my intellectual interests. The causes I join reveal what I’m passionate about. I might list my favorite movies, books, and music in my profile. And so on. Given the specificity of what I reveal about myself on Facebook, little guesswork is needed in order to build my behavioral profile. The more accurate the profile, the more targeted the advertisement. Will advertisers flock to Facebook to maximize the effectiveness of their targeting efforts? Time will tell.
[BTW, there is a Greasemonkey script to scrub the ads from your Facebook news feed]
This ability to aggregate and profit from my online behavior has, of course, not gone unnoticed. The FTC is holding a town hall meeting to address the growing concerns about Internet and search companies developing the means to track and profile users based on psychological and behavioral traits. I hope Facebook will attend.
Finally, one line from the USA Today article jumps out at me. When recalling the concerns raised about how Google’s Gmail targets ads based on the content of a user’s incoming e-mail, the article states: “Google’s customers eventually got used to the ads as online users have in general become more at ease with privacy issues.” I’m not sure what evidence the authors are relying on to make the claim that online users have “become more at ease with privacy issues.” Are people really at ease? Or is it more acquiescence in the face of default settings, the lack of a position from with to negotiate privacy settings, etc…