For Facebook Ads, How Targeted Is Too Targeted?

By Justin Lafferty 

It’s no secret that Facebook in recent years has become a data company. The more data Facebook has about its users — such as gender, education, likes, and location — the better it can serve targeted ads. But Facebook has to strike a cautious balance with regard to targeting. Whereas many users see ads that are wholly irrelevant, many others feel that Facebook can be too invasive when it comes to advertising.

Which would you rather have: Ads that are properly targeted based on your likes, activities, and location, which might lead you to click and buy, or more of a hands-off approach? Facebook is all about relevancy, and it wants to serve ads that are relevant to users.

As I look at my sidebar ads now, I see a promo for “Mad Men” (relevant, as it’s a favorite show, and I’ve shared that page’s content), Citi (not relevant, as I utilize a credit union for my banking needs), and two ads based on pages my friends like. The problem is, these friends aren’t me. We don’t share the same interests. These are ads that I wouldn’t necessarily flag, but they’re not getting my attention.

With Facebook ads, the site and companies are often in a no-win situation. If an ad is not properly targeted (such as the ads based on things my friends like), users complain. If an ad is too targeted (such as if I just spent some time looking at appliances at, and then all of a sudden, I see a Target ad), users complain.

As Facebook continues to work with companies such as Datalogix and Epsilon, which can help the social network track spending activity outside of Facebook, users will become more wary of advertising. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that protects online freedom, recently posted steps that users can take to opt out of this kind of targeting, but users have to visit the websites of each agency to do so. It’s complex and something very few users will actually go through.

EFF commented on the opt-out process:

You may have noticed that protecting yourself from this type of targeted advertising is cumbersome and complex. The data brokers’ opt-out process is unnecessarily complicated, suggesting that the brokers have no confidence that people would stay within their program if opt-out were easy. This illustrates the problem — the supposed enhancement of targeted ads is not something the consumers want or would choose if the option were readily available.

Given these challenges, Facebook could do more to help its users, providing an one-click opt-out for those who would like to socialize with their friends without seeing advertisements that are targeted to them based on things they did off of Facebook. With an opt-out on Facebook, you would never find yourself back in the program on Facebook, even if it decided to add another data broker partner.

However, many users feel that Facebook could do a better job of targeting ads. Whether this is just another attempt at taking a shot at Facebook or a genuine plea for ads that better line up with their interests is unclear.

A few days ago, Digital Trends’ Molly McHugh wrote about how the ads she’s seeing on her sidebar are completely irrelevant to her. She doesn’t have kids, yet Facebook showed her ads that would be more relevant for mothers. She rents a studio apartment, but she saw ads that were probably better targeted toward homeowners.

Facebook’s privacy line will become blurred even further Thursday, when it will reportedly announce a phone with deep Facebook integration. With this device (as many tech reporters guessed), Facebook will have access to even more data. The social network won’t just be a compartment of the phone — it will be the platform.

When AllFacebook wrote about the alleged Facebook home on Android, social media expert Mari Smith was very skeptical in a comment on the story:

Uhhhh, no! I heart my iPhone!! Complete Facebook integration means Facebook will have access to every move I make on that phone. #justsayin

Other commenters shared Smith’s feelings.

So it’s obvious that users want Facebook to be a part of their life, just not a permanent part. They want to be friends with Facebook, but not BFFs. The reaction to this alleged Facebook phone will help the company better understand just how relevant the ads on their site should be.

Readers: Are Facebook ads too targeted or not relevant enough?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.