Facebook Inc. is watching users' activity on the Web more closely, in a bid to sell more targeted advertising based on their behaviour online.
It's a change that began earlier this year in the U.S., and on Thursday the world's largest social network announced it is launching its advertising changes in a number of other countries, including Canada.
Until now in Canada, advertisers were able to target ad campaigns on Facebook based on information people shared on Facebook – including personal information, apps used and Facebook pages where they have clicked the "like" button. This data is anonymized so that advertisers cannot identify people personally, but can buy ads to target people based on a series of identifying characteristics. Those could include their age, gender, location and interests.
In addition to that information, Facebook is now targeting ads based on its users' online browsing activity outside of Facebook as well.
It's a common practice among other technology companies that sell advertising, including Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Companies make use of tools such as cookies to track browsing activity and to deliver ads based on that information.
It is also a phenomenon that has raised privacy concerns in the past. Because of this, the advertising industry has launched an initiative that aims to give people more information on how "behavioural advertising" works online, as well as the choice to opt out via YourAdChoices.ca. Facebook itself has been working for months to allay any privacy concerns its users may have. Earlier this year it introduced a series of privacy "checkups." And now, in conjunction with its announcement about expanded ad targeting, it is also expanding privacy measures in hopes that users will not object to use of more of their information to target ads to them.
For one, the company is reminding people that they can opt out of ads on AdChoices.ca, as well as imposing ad targeting limits through the settings on mobile devices that work on an Apple or Android operating system. Facebook is also introducing a measure that has already begun in the U.S., which will explain to users why they are seeing an ad and allows them to change their own settings to control the kinds of ads they see – including specifying their interests further, so that Facebook can deliver what it says are more "relevant" ads to them. The global roll-out of this feature will begin in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland and the U.K.
Another step Facebook is taking to ward off concerns over privacy is a more simplified walk-through of its policies, in a new page on its site called "privacy basics." The idea behind this is that no one reads the long, wordy terms of service agreements associated with all their digital services, from e-mail systems to music downloading. Facebook is attempting to strip out the legal language and make its rules more clear to users who want to read through them.
It is proposing updates to its privacy and data policies, and inviting users to comment on these proposals until Nov. 20. Facebook is working on new features to come as well.
For example, it is exploring the use of more specific location-based advertising. Users who choose to share their location could see updates from friends who are closest to them, and information from advertisers in the area as well – such as menus for restaurants within a certain distance.
Facebook is also working on a "buy" button that could allow people to browse products and buy things without leaving their Facebook page.