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Are Brands Afraid of Sharing Their Consumers' Data With Facebook?

Social network assures them it’s secure

Illustration: Gluekit

Facebook wants brands to know their data is safe. The social network has been on a charm offensive of sorts to assure advertisers that when they share information to buy ads on Facebook, that data is not seen by anyone else.

It's the kind of message Facebook is used to delivering, only to users who need privacy and security assurances. Now, as a mature advertising business, with data at its core, Facebook is taking steps to make marketers feel safe sharing with the social network.

Facebook has been meeting with marketers in recent weeks to get them comfortable with the platform, especially since it launched new ad technology in the fall. The company said that this data dialog will see even more urgency in 2015, with the industry widely embracing new tech-driven tactics. Facebook has a new ad server, Atlas, and ad products like Custom Audiences, which let brands use their email lists and other customer information to target their marketing.

"We're talking about good data hygiene in the context of Facebook and more generally across the ecosystem," said Joe Sullivan, chief of security at Facebook.

However, brands are sometimes reluctant to share their data with anyone, in an age of hacks and breaches where stolen email lists can be a PR nightmare.

Also, advertisers are afraid of parting with data that could be used to benefit a rival. What if Facebook let Pepsi serve ads to Coke contacts? It's a real concern, and Facebook says it would never happen.

Facebook has taken on an unlikely role as data advocate in the ad world, and not just telling brands about how their data is stored--or not stored rather--with the social network. Facebook, with close ties to cloud marketing company Salesforce, also is pushing marketers to buy into better data management systems for their own sakes.

Companies are slowly getting their data acts together by marrying all their departments-- from media relations to sales to marketing--into one collection bucket.

"Facebook is a leader in bringing the industry to think harder about data integrations and media," said Jared Belsky, president of 360i.

Some players in the space say they have heard from clients that are reluctant to share too much data with Facebook. Facebook says that when a brand uploads a customer email list to find its target audience on the social network, the information is encrypted and quickly deleted.

"There is a natural and pervasive fear about giving data over, but that's fear, not reality," Belsky said.

Facebook's data awakening is as much about good stewardship of sensitive information as it is about getting more advertisers and more targeted advertising on the platform. Some industry insiders said Facebook's recent interest in the topic is a sign of its maturing advertising business, which has been building new technology and data capabilities.

Sullivan and Tim Campos, Facebook's chief information officer, said that getting marketers comfortable integrating data into ad campaigns simply means better sponsored content for users, who will find the messages more relevant.

"Data isn't valuable if you're not using it," Campos said.

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