Privacy Police

Should You Be Creeped Out by Facebook’s New Mobile Ad Network?

Point counterpoint.
 Should You Be Creeped Out by Facebooks New Mobile Ad Network?

(Photo: Tech Globex)

Last night, news broke that Facebook had beta launched a new mobile ad network that allows advertisers to make bids on ads based on Facebook’s trove of highly specific user data.

It’s a natural move for a company that’s most prized possession is its database of fleshed-out stats, collected in painstakingly detail for every person who’s ever signed up for Facebook. The company knows your interests, your friends, your location, age and gender–after all, you volunteered that information for them to happily gobble up. Now, all that info is being channeled into ads for apps and websites outside the Facebook environment.

As TechCrunch explains:

Starting later today, you may start seeing banner and interstitial ads targeted by your Facebook biographical and social data within non-Facebook mobile iOS and Android apps plus mobile websites where you’ve authenticated with Facebook. The targetable data includes your age, gender, location, Likes, friends who’ve used an advertiser’s app and basically any other targeting options in Facebook’s standard ads marketplace….

Advertisers set a bid they’re willing to pay Facebook to reach a certain demographic of users. Meanwhile, Facebook syncs its anonymous user IDs with several mobile ad exchanges. When a Facebook user visits one of the apps or sites where these exchanges have placements, the exchange instantly sends Facebook that user’s ID and asks if there’s a bid set to target them. If so, Facebook pays the ad exchange some portion of the bid, and the ad is shown to the user.

Sounds simple enough. But should you be weirded out by this newest move? Let’s investigate.

Yes, this whole thing is really creepy.

Though the fact that Facebook owns all user data uploaded to the platform is clearly embedded in the site’s terms of service agreement, very few users actually take the time to read through such hulking documents. When you signed up for Facebook–many of us way back in 2005 when it was still just a small network for colleges–you had no idea how big the platform would grow and what that would mean for all of the data you uploaded to it.

For privacy hawks, the notion that a website would serve up your data–even if it’s anonymously–to another company so that they can manipulate you into buying stuff is not exactly good news. Facebook is essentially giving brands and advertisers an easy route to needle their way into your deepest desires. And for many, that’s unsettling.

The news is also important within the larger context of Facebook’s story. As TechCrunch writes, “That’s why today represents an important shift from Facebook utilizing its traffic to instead solely utilizing its data to monetize.” As its stock price hovers around the $20 mark, how much user data will Facebook be willing to sell to meet its bottom line?

Eh, whatever, it’s not really that creepy.

If you were worried about Facebook selling your data, you probably shouldn’t have given it to them in the first place. That’s why Diaspora was such a big thing (for a minute there, anyway)–if you want a social network that allows you to maintain ownership of your data, Facebook isn’t the right choice. Plus, what they’re doing is basically the same as what Google already does by scanning your Gmail for keywords and offering up ads based on those.

No matter where you go on the web, you’re going to be served ads–it’s a sad fact of the modern Internet. Why not get ads tailor made for your interests? If you’re a young guy who likes Dave Matthews Band and works at a startup, it makes sense that you’d get shown ads for overpriced messenger bags. Maybe you’ll even buy one.

And as TechCrunch adds, “Facebook assures me privacy was “top of mind” when designing the new ads program and no personally identifiable information is ever shared with third parties.”

Whatever your position on the new ad network, investors must be happy that Facebook is finally making a fresh move towards further monetization.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com