Facebook announces ban on third-party data for ad targeting

29 Mar 2018

Facebook ads mobile app. Image: BigTunaOnline

Facebook clamps down on ad targeting in the wake of rising public pressure.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal continues to unfold, with an ever-more complicated story emerging.

Facebook is making some (largely cosmetic) changes to its privacy settings in an effort to provide users with more control over their personal information.

It also announced some changes to how advertisers can use its platform. Yesterday (28 March), Facebook announced that it would be disabling a form of advertising known as Partner Categories.

Third-party targeting curbed

The change will see advertisers no longer permitted to access data about individuals from large third-party data aggregation companies such as Acxiom and Experian. Prior to this, advertisers were permitted to target groups based on an amalgamation of datasets from both data aggregation firms.

“We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories,” said Graham Mudd, a product marketing director at the company. “This product enables third-party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.”

The social network used to let advertisers target people from a number of sources, including: Facebook data collected from user activity and profiles, data from the advertisers such as customer emails, and third-party service firm data, which can collect offline data such as purchasing activity. Facebook gives a portion of the advertising revenue from the latter method to the data aggregators.

Facebook mitigating risk

Many small businesses would have availed of the Partner Categories feature, as they might not necessarily have had a large amount of their own customer data to draw insights from.

This is a risk-reduction step for Facebook, as the company would not have as much control over how firms such as Experian collect their information. Partner Categories is not to blame for the Cambridge Analytica fallout, as the company was given that data from a third-party developer that went against Facebook’s terms of service and violated user consent.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook will also stop providing anonymised data from its platform to major data brokers, a practice that previously helped to monitor the effectiveness of ad campaigns.

The change from Facebook eliminates one potential data leak source and does improve privacy on some level, but many are saying it and other measures should have been put in place a long time ago.

In a report yesterday, Channel 4 News investigators found that a cache of campaign data from a Cambridge Analytica source, which details 136,000 individuals in the US state of Colorado, including each person’s personality and psychological profile, was still circulating.

Cambridge Analytica previously insisted all Facebook data it held and any information extrapolated from it had been deleted, and Facebook said it took steps to ensure data was destroyed.

Facebook ads mobile app. Image: BigTunaOnline/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects