One of the deeper revelations of Facebook’s unprecedented data grab in 2018 is how easily brands and media companies can target individual users with customized ads, according to the Digital Advertising Alliance, a trade group representing some of the world’s biggest internet companies. A new survey by Facebook indicates that when people like certain companies and TV shows, Facebook shows them more ads from those companies and TV shows in its News Feed.
With a quarter of the US population using Facebook, this is a big business opportunity for the companies to target individual users with their products, adding to their preferred products. As I have argued before, this is likely to lead to a sophisticated tracking of individual behavior, from purchase to downloads to app use. We are only in the beginning of this trend, and Facebook appears to be leading the way.
The above graph shows that those users who liked a company Facebook listed, or who liked TV shows it listed, the new survey found, started seeing more content from those companies and shows. It also shows that those users were also more likely to see them in their friends’ News Feeds than non-likers. This data point shows how Facebook could, with relatively little effort, persuade users to engage with the companies and shows it favors by showing them more content from them in the future.
For an example of how this could work, here is an ad targeting people who liked a specific company Facebook listed:
More of them seemed like they were quite interested in the brand’s products in their friends’ News Feeds. No surprise here: Facebook has users’ bank account information, their viewing habits, and even how much they like companies.
What’s more, Facebook ads can take advantage of interest management, which is another Facebook-coded trick. Interest management helps brands automate the process of targeting certain users—business owners, say—with products. When an interest manager sees that a user likes a series of businesses, for example, it will adjust future ads to have the exact products, locations, and prices the users tend to support.
The data also makes clear that Facebook’s targeting algorithm is capable of automatically scoring items that a user may choose to follow and promoting them to News Feed. And since the algorithm is calibrated to a users’ likes and interests, it will push marketers to boost these items in an effort to get more of their customers to show up. A recent study found that some such “relevance” also appears to be related to race.