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Facebook Has a Great Idea, but Everybody Will Howl Anyway

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The company will collect and sell even more data to advertisers, but at least users will get to see and even edit it.

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Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has announced that it is changing its advertising practices in order to deliver broader and deeper information on its users' interests to advertisers. At the same time, it will introduce a function that will allow the users to edit their own lists of interests.
 
That's a two-part policy change, and if many users will enjoy the editing chore, there will be hell to pay over the privacy aspect.
 
The change was announced in a June 12 posting on the site with an anodyne headline, "Making Ads Better and Giving People More Control Over the Ads They See." The changes will be rolled out on the US site over the next few weeks, and globally in the months ahead.
 
The fun part is the edit function. Facebook is going to allow users to see the dossiers that have been compiled on their apparent interests, delete entries they don't want and select entries that better reflect their interests.
 
If, for instance, you are tired of seeing nothing but cheesy ads for dubious weight-loss products, you can indicate, through the new "ad preferences" tool, that you might be more responsive to offers for resort hotels or concert tickets.
 
In the process, you can discover and even correct some of the wacky misinformation about you that is being beamed around Madison Avenue and the world beyond. My Facebook profile, which is supposed to be compiled from information I supplied, indicates that I spent four years working for something called Misfit Clan, which appears to be related to a game called World of Warcraft. I had to Google it to find that out.
 
Part of many individuals' privacy concerns is surely the sneaking suspicion that the grossest misinformation about them is being circulated out there, and that any trivial click they make at any time will only be added to the mix.
 
If users find this access useful or illuminating, marketers are going to adore it. Facebook is betting that advertisers will pay for ads that are targeted directly to people who have expressed an interest in the subject.
 
But that is by no means the only way your interests will be deduced. For the first time, Facebook announced, it will use data about users' activities across the Web, including browsing history and smartphone app use, to build those dossiers of information.
 
You're not alone if you assumed that Facebook was doing this already. As AdAge explains, Facebook already permits ad agencies to target advertising to its users, based on tracking software that registers their visits to other sites.

Advertisers also use Facebook's ad exchange to target groups of users based on their browsing history on other sites. This must be why, for example, the home furnishings site that I am addicted to pursues me to Facebook with images of sectional sofas that I have looked at but not purchased.
 
Meanwhile, Facebook was directly selling targeting advertising based only on the data it gathered inside its walls, compiled from users' profiles and history of "likes."
 
With the policy change, it will use its ability to record clicks to any page that carries the Facebook "like" button, which is virtually every page on the Web. Whether you "like" it or not.
 
The company plans to begin using the data in its mobile app first, adding it to the desktop site advertising program down the road.
 
Facebook also will re-purpose a piece of code called "conversion pixels" that it gave marketers to help them track how many users who see their ads on Facebook actually click through to the sites they are promoting. Facebook will now use that code for its own tracking purposes as well.
 
The company is giving users the ability to opt out of this extended tracking program. That function is maintained by the Digital Advertising Alliance, on a site called the Self Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising. In order to opt out of Facebook browser targeting, users will have to click to open a window in the corner of an ad, click to a link to the external ad industry site, and change their settings.
 
[Your hint for the day: You also can go directly to the alliance site and opt out of tracking by any of a list of 101 participating sites.]
 
Facebook has flatly announced that it will not honor do-not-track settings on Web browsers. The only way to avoid the new targeting system is to make that opt-out request through the alliance site, or change the settings that are available on Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android mobile devices.
 
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