What does “OK” look like in China, or Burma, or Venezuela?
Facebook confirmed last week that its first-ever ad product is an ongoing test in those countries, one that targets ads based on users’ ethnicities and personalities. Within China, if a user mentions to the world that he is Chinese, the world knows, and posts about Chinese news and culture begin to pop up (all without the user even having a profile). In Burma, the program seems to be more of a collaboration among social networks and messaging apps to provide more relevant content to users.
Facebook has been researching this for a while, reported the Wall Street Journal last month. In fact, they had announced in 2016 that it was partnering with Japan’s Line, India’s Waze, and Mexico’s Tujia. The pitch was that the users sharing all those opinions, data, and even interests could make its services better and less obnoxious. And it’s not that any other services would have wasted that kind of user data if they could: Some user data sets, like gender and location, are not particularly useful for the vast majority of users. But not every data set is that valuable, especially if the company can provide more relevant content.
Here’s how the program works, per the Journal:
… The company is testing a feature called Intelligent Audiences, which identifies users across its services based on their interests, type of messages they post on the sites, and their language. For instance, a user who says she is a U.S. city — but says that Facebook doesn’t give her any information back, such as her phone number or address — could see ads for products and services based on her interests. Such users would respond with the hashtag “,” which would be a customized version of the Facebook message that wasn’t shared with the world.
Facebook hasn’t said when or if it will launch the program. But as a platform, if it is successful, maybe it will introduce another. There may be a place for Facebook microtargeting political ads in nations where the internet is often not accessible. But political targeting has always been intensely difficult. Now, it looks like it won’t be particularly difficult either, thanks to a well-funded new ad product.