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Facebook is using your data to target ads at you

Added on by Chris Saad.
According to the Wall Street Journal online Facebook is designing an ad system to use their extensive knowledge of its users to target advertising to them.

This move is hardly unexpected. Chances are many sites across many usage models are considering and implementing the same thing.

The WSJ writes:

Next year, Facebook hopes to expand on the service, one person says, using algorithms to learn how receptive a person might be to an ad based on readily available information about activities and interests of not just a user but also his friends -- even if the user hasn't explicitly expressed interest in a given topic. Facebook could then target ads accordingly.

The question, however, is how long users are going to accept having their information harvested and leveraged in this way - the very heart of the Attention Economy - without demanding portability and transparency.

The WSJ article continues:

While Facebook plans to protect its users' privacy and possibly give them an option to keep certain information completely private, some Facebook users might rebel against the use of their personal information for the company's gain.

And the perceptions that targeted ads create can be as much of a problem as the reality. "Most people don't realize how targeting works; it becomes so good that even though it's anonymous, you feel like they know you," says Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Publicis Groupe-owned consulting firm Denuo Group. However, he says Facebook needs to be careful in implementing any targeted ad system, lest loyal users "find it creepy."

This is key. Maintaining privacy is just a subset of giving users control. Control must include portability and transparency.

Using export/import formats like APML would soften the impact of privacy/control concerns. The problem is that walled gardens like Facebook (and yes - it is a walled garden) think that they need to lock users in in order to maintain their unique value.

The truth is, however, that unless Facebook begins to adopt more standards and open up its platform for export, it will be usurped by the first medium-scale network to do so. Don't believe me? Remember that little network Facebook that blew Myspace & Linkedin up by opening up just a little?

Let's hope that Facebook considers taking some measures before rolling out their new ad system.