Facebook Moving Toward an Ad Network? Sure Seems Like It

Company's recent policy changes stir speculation

Last Friday Facebook announced it was making changes to its data use policy. The company has posted a document online that lays out the full gamut of additions and deletions it will be making, but one change making headlines is that Facebook will be able to show ads on other sites with or without social context, such as whether a user’s friends have liked a brand or the ad.

Currently the company's policy states that Facebook would only serve ads on external sites with social context, so removing that context as a requirement would theoretically allow Facebook to target ads anywhere on the Web using its users' Facebook profile data, such as likes or other interests to target ads.

But David Rollo, chief strategy officer at social ad firm Blinq Media, seemed to believe that Facebook must have plans to expand its ad purview at a OMMA Social panel on Tuesday. “Now Facebook’s privacy policy says that they can take all of the information off your social graph and leverage that with targeting off Facebook,” he said.

The logical evolution of this change—and one that reporters have already jumped on—is that it paves the way for Facebook’s version of the Google Display Network. But Facebook will face privacy challenges in launching that network, and for the very reason that Rollo eyes the policy change as a win for ad targeting.

“When you combine that with third party [data], now you’re starting to get that composite that isn’t going to serve you a Dora the Explorer ad when you’re registering for your marathon,” Rollo said.

The flip side is that folks, especially the Federal Trade Commission, might not be so psyched about Facebook data being tied, directly or indirectly, with third-party data for ad targeting. John Montgomery, COO of GroupM Interaction North America, said during the panel that a “huge amount of communication and education needs to be done” explaining to users why their data is being collected and how it’s being used.

The privacy changes have yet to be implemented, so it remains to be seen how that data could be connected or whether Facebook would establish some mechanism or set of rules that would govern how or if third parties could collect the Facebook data, or what cookies could be used on sites that target ads using the Facebook data.

Assuming Facebook’s learned its lesson from the Beacon debacle over linking user data with advertising, then advertisers should be enthused, said Chris Emme, audience data platform RadiumOne’s East Coast sales director. “If I like Pepsi [on Facebook], it makes sense that I’m served with Pepsi Summer Concert Series ads [outside of Facebook] when I’m consuming entertainment content,” he said.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, a few hours after his panel appearance, such speculation could all be for naught. Later in the day, Blinq's Rollo reached out to Adweek to retract some of his statements, saying he does not actually believe that Facebook plans to combine first- and third-party data. Rollo also said he regreted the Dora The Explorer targeting analogy.