Facebook To Require Labels For Targeted Ads

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Advertisers must now tell users when they’ve been targeted using information from a third-party data broker

Facebook is to continue allowing information supplied by data brokers to be used to target ads on its service, in a turnaround from an earlier position, but will now require advertisers to tell users when they have been targeted with such data.

The change is one of many Facebook has undertaken in an effort to quell negative publicity around its handling of users’ data, which has reached new heights in recent weeks as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

As part of its response to the disclosure of the way Cambridge Analytica obtained and used Facebook users’ data, the social network said it would shut down ad-targeting programmes based on information from data brokers.

Such brokers, including Experian and Acxiom, obtain detailed information on individuals from a wide range of sources and sell it for use in targeting adverts.

data breachTargeted ads

Facebook used such data to build its Partner Categories ad-targeting tool, which allowed advertisers to aim publicity at people who fit into certain categories, such as those who owned their home, had recently had a baby or drove a luxury car.

Facebook also permitted advertisers to target individuals using information they had obtained from data brokers themselves.

On 28 March Facebook said publicly that it would shut down Partner Categories. It privately told ad agencies they would no longer be able to use lists from data brokers to target Facebook users, Reuters reported.

Advertiser complaints led Facebook to change its stance two days later, on 30 March.

But beginning on 2 July, advertisers will now be required to tell users if an ad they’re being shown is there because of information supplied by a data broker.

Advertisers will also have to promise that the data vendor obtained legally required consent from the consumers being targeted.

Facebook said the policies, like other recent changes, are designed to create more transparency for users and accountability from advertisers,

“We are not taking a position on whether third-party data is inherently good or bad,” Graham Mudd, a director of product marketing at Facebook, told Reuters. “We are taking a position on the importance of having the right to use the data and for it to have been sourced responsibly.”

News ‘censorship’

News publishers have lambasted a separate move that would explicitly label political ads.

The labels would be applied to ads from news publishers as well as those from organisations such as lobbying or political groups, something news publishers said risks blurring the line between propaganda and impartial reporting.

“Placing news ads in an archive designed to capture political advertising implies that Facebook considers there is a political agenda behind journalism,” wrote the publishing groups. “We cannot and will not engage in any process that conflates legitimate newsgathering with politics or advocacy.”

The move risks “censoring high-quality journalism”, wrote the groups, which represent hundreds of media organisations around the world.

The letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was signed by the News Media Alliance, European Publishers Council, Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of News Editors, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Association of Magazine Media and Digital Content Next.

The groups requested an exemption from the policy for professional news publishers, and asked that news posts be treated as general advertising, even when they mention political issues.

Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice president for ads, and Alex Himel, Facebook’s vice president of local and Pages, said the move was necessary to increase transparency and prevent abuse during elections.

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