Facebook is developing a new ad system that will allow advertisers to target ads based on the personal information that millions of users rush to reveal on the site, Vauhini Vara of the Wall Street Journal reports.
The new service would let advertisers visit a Web site to choose a much wider array of characteristics for the users who should see their ads — based not only on age, gender and location, but also on details such as favourite activities and preferred music, people familiar with the matter say. Facebook would use its technology to point the ads to the selected groups of people without exposing their personal information to the advertisers.
These ads would show up differently than the banner ads and boxed flyers that appear on the borders of Facebook pages, say people familiar with the plan. Instead, they would be interspersed with items on the “news feed,” which is a running list of short updates on the activities of a user’s Facebook friends. In addition, the ads would show up on Facebook pages that feature services provided by other companies, one person says.
Advertisers are excited about the service, which might finally deliver the “promise” of social networking. However! Facebook had better be extremely careful about how it explains the targeting system to users and Congress. Success draws critics, and even if Facebook keeps users’ names and addresses anonymous, the idea that the company is making money off their personal preferences could cause an uproar.
For example, remember the flak Google got about its plan to target ads via keywords in Gmail? This was back in the days when Google was a feisty upstart that everyone loved. After floating the Gmail plan, however, Google was suddenly viewed as a venal behemoth that snookered users with claims about not being evil and then abused their privacy (as if Google actually cared what users were jabbering about). The Facebook backlash has already begun, and this plan could accelerate it.