Since about September, Facebook has offered its advertisers a powerful new way to track its users as they surf the web: It’s called “phone number retargeting.” The move came after Facebook made a big effort to collect its users’ mobile phone numbers to prevent security breaches.
More recently, according to AdExchanger, Facebook has combined phone retargeting with a new “conversion pixel” — a type of tracking device, basically — within ads displayed on Facebook.
The combination of phone retargeting and conversion pixels allows advertisers to target you directly with ads and then measure exactly how you respond to them, whether by clicking, ignoring or buying something from the advertiser’s site.
Some advertisers have been doing this kind of thing on other web sites for years.
But most Facebook users don’t know it’s going on within Facebook. Instead, they believe the primary reason Facebook prompts them for a mobile phone number is to prevent account hacking, and to allow users to upload photos and make status updates from their phones.
In fact, earlier this year, Facebook began asking every user for a phone number for “security” purposes. Here’s what Facebook says about that:
But Facebook has since made those phone numbers available t! o advert isers as part of its new Custom Audience targeting product. “Audiences can be defined by either user email address, Facebook UIDs, or user phone numbers,” the product states.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you are a member of your local gym. You probably gave the gym your phone number. But then you let your membership lapse, and now the gym wants to persuade you to come back. The gym can cross-reference its list of members’ phone numbers with users’ phone numbers on Facebook, and serve an ad on the page of any user with a matching number. Suddenly, you’re seeing ads that say, “Get 10% off if you rejoin your local gym!”
If you click on that ad, a conversion pixel will enable a “cookie” to track what you do so that the gym can see how successful its campaign was.
There’s a level of privacy built in to the system: Although your phone number will be targeted by ads, the number will be “hashed,” meaning that the system disguises it by replacing it with random code, making you anonymous. So the gym might target 100 phone numbers, but it won’t know which of those specific people actually responded to the ad (until they pay for a membership online, of course). All the gym will know is that a certain number responded to the ad, and that those users must have been on the original phone list.
Facebook launched the system to make its ads more effective for advertisers. The company believes they lower cost-per-acquisition (of users) for advertisers by 40 percent.
Disclosure: The author owns Facebook stock.
Facebook got taken to task by Ad Age this weekend in a report that accuses the social network of being “purposefully vague” about how it targets users based on their likes and interests.
We told you yesterday that Facebook has more than 200 ways of tracking its users around the web.
Age says Facebook’s advertising tool applies a hashtag to terms such as “morning sickness,” “ultrasound” and “pregnancy test” and can then serve ads against them. But Facebook declined to come out and say that it uses posts made by users to identify pregnant women (or other consumers going through a life change that might require a large number of new purchases):
Facebook, for its part, said it rarely uses the content of status updates as a signal for ad targeting.
But Facebook is careful to note that it doesn’t use the content of status updates to target pregnant women.
Finally, a spokesperson told Age:
“Not all advertisers are created equally in terms of how they define privacy as opposed to how we define privacy,” he said.
Facebook’s clients, however, told Age that they can use the site to ID pregnant women.
Café Mom VP-Marketing Kristina Tipton said her team has identified a Facebook audience of more than a million women who are likely to be pregnant or may have recently been so by anonymously targeting specific keywords that show up in users’ conversations … Ms. Tipton has been told by her Facebook rep that this process includes people who have mentioned the terms in their posts as well as users who have added those terms to their profile.
T! he big s urprise in the article is when Age all but accuses Facebook of lying:
Certainly there’s a gap between what marketers say they are being told and Facebook tells a journalist on the record.
Well this is mildly terrifying: according to a new Pew study, the Facebook privacy mode a lot of us rely on for photos and status updates is, on average, anything but private. Time to reconsider your settings, everyone.
The finding is staggering—Friends of Friends can hit as many as over seven million people:
Facebook users can reach an average of more than 150,000 Facebook users through their Facebook friends; the median user can reach about 31,000 others. At two degrees of separation (friends-of-friends), Facebook users in our sample can on average reach 156,569 other Facebook users. However, the relatively small number of users with very large friends lists, who also tended to have lists that are less interconnected, overstates the reach of the typical Facebook user. In our sample, the maximum reach was 7,821,772 other Facebook users. The median user (the middle user from our sample) can reach 31,170 people through their friends-of-friends.
When you think friend of a friend, the IRL analogue comes to mind. Your buddy’s buddy. That guy you met at a bar who seems okay. Your girlfriend’s pals from college. They must be okay people, right? They’re so narrowly removed from you, why not share all your photos with them?
Because 150,000+ people includes a hell of a lot of strangers you probably shouldn’t trust, and certainly don’t (and will never) know personally. You can read the study in its entirety below. [Pew]
Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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