With its loopy IPO, disappointing moves around its board of directors and constant questions about its privacy options, Facebook and its advertising have been loved about as much as Monsanto and ExxonMobil. The big difference, of course, is that while many users constantly rail against Facebook, they continue to use it. And as head-scratching as Facebook’s privacy policies may evolve at times, even more bizarre is this world in which users constantly complain about Facebook – on Facebook.
But the constant concerns over privacy still drive critics of Facebook crazy. And if you enter the world of Facebook advertising, the way in which those little banners and boxes are delivered to your screen may push you even closer to insanity. The way in which Facebook allows companies and even individuals to target advertisements to some critics may reek of an invasion of privacy. In the world of internet advertising, however, this is really nothing new: it is just that the granularity of who you target is even more precise now. For those new to internet advertising, however, the ways in which Facebook allows users to target ads can come across as odd.
Metafilter contributor the latin mouse describes the weird world of Facebook ad serving. The more information one posts on Facebook, and in turn the more information those Facebook friends share, the more possibilities exist for advertisers to target you. For example, the Metafilter user described the opportunity to direct ads based on loneliness. The specificity of the advertising platform allows for advertisers to seek out users whose current location differs from family and friends. For those whose relationship status stands at “it’s complicated,” they can breathe a sigh of relief: Facebook will not allow advertisers to target that demographic . . . yet. However, Facebook users whose status is “engaged” will certainly see ads for wedding dresses and photographers.
But it is the “Connection Targeting” that may creep out more users. Advertisers have the option to target friends of users who have “liked” a certain company or service, but have not liked that exact company themselves. Naturally the ad will appear to that use with a note that their friend “likes” this company or service, which could prove a tad embarrassing if that Facebook friend is some random acquaintance or colleague. The lesson here is be careful of which companies you “like” if your tastes run a tad on the dark or risqué side.
Advertising to certain ethnic groups is also possible, if your target ethnicity is Hispanic. You are out of luck, therefore, if you are trying to reach the Korean-American or Armenian-American communities in the U.S. Of course, depending on your goals, targeting Hispanics may not be too effective if you believe Cubans in south Florida and Mexicans in Los Angeles automatically comprise a monolithic group.
So while privacy advocates may have a tizzy over what they think are creepy advertising tactics on Facebook, it is important to remember two things. First, be vigilant of what you “like” on Facebook and who you are “friends” with. Second, the science of internet advertising, while far more advanced that the days when DoubleClick ruled this space circa 2000, is still imperfect. After all, as I bounce around Facebook, the ads I saw this evening alternated between customizable coffee mugs, underwear I would not be caught dead in and Applebee’s, where I have never eaten. Like your LinkedIn network, your Facebook profile has got to be kept clean to prevent any embarrassment in the first place.
Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Images taken by Leon Kaye.