How safe is your data? How Facebook [mis]uses them

You are probably familiar with Facebook advertising, and those that work in marketing may well have used it. Yet what types of data Facebook collects and how securely they are applied in advertising still remains unclear. To straighten this out, here is a digest of how the social networking giant slips user data into advertising.

User data
Facebook stores all your data privately. A few nuggets of data including your name, gender, school, employer or networks are required to create a Facebook account. The information you supply while creating an account, along with your cover photo and profile, are made publicly available. In addition, data of your interaction with other users through sending messages, commenting, check-ins or page likes are recorded and stored privately. Later, the social networking site uses the records to modify your experience on its platform. For instance, friends you interact will most often feature prominently on your News Feed.

Facebook Ads
Facebook permits advertisers  to target messaging based on self-reported demographic info, relationship info, Facebook activity and location data. This kind of advertising, according to Facebook, is 100 percent anonymous although highly targeted.

Advertisers can target their ads to unmarried women between the ages of 18 and 35, who live in Kenya and like the TV show “Cheaters.” Facebook will afterwards give the advertisers an approximate number of users who match their criteria – although the names of any information that identifies the users will remain classified. In this case, the advertisers are assured of targeting the 10,000 users who fit the profile, although they won’t be able to identify them by names.

To boot, Facebook created broader segments, groups compiled based on profile info or behavior of users with similar interests. Segmenting is done programmatically, in which case, profiles are segmented based on occurrence of certain keywords.

Facebook Exchange
Facebook recently announced the launch of Facebook Exchange out of beta, allowing advertisers to use cookie-based targeting via Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) to reach audience on its site using more “timely and relevant messages.”

Facebook exchange allows partnered DSPs and retargeting providers to buy selected Facebook ad inventory in real time. Advertisers can as well target ads based on own data about users – whether the users previously visited the advertiser’s site. This enables technologies such as retargeting, serving ads to users who have visited your site, to operate within Facebook.

A common misconception on Facebook Exchange is that advertisers can target audience based on data they collect besides the user profiles Facebook owns. According to Facebook however, this is not the case as advertisers whose retargeted ads are visible on the exchange do not have access to Facebook data on the users and cannot further segment retargeting campaigns based on interests or demographic data.

Within the exchange, Facebook operates as just another Web property – such as HumanIPO or your favorite blog. The DSPs and ratergetters can add ads based on past site visits and not on segments.

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