Facebook’s cookie-free targeting with Atlas: one step closer to Minority Report?


If you saw the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report,” you probably remember the scene when he walks by The Gap and a retinal scan triggers a series of advertisements that also include a history of his past purchases.  If you’re also a passionate digital marketer, you probably saw that and thought, “Whoa, that’s creepy and cool at the same time!”

While personal physiological identification with businesses is headed in that direction already, especially with Apple’s recent launch of Apple Pay, it’ll be some time before society overcomes privacy concerns to allow this type of authentication to be used for advertising purposes.  I say “some,” not “long,” because Facebook has already pushed the envelope here quite a bit.

Remember when privacy was probably the biggest threat to their business?  Whether society has taken on a state of laissez-faire or has collectively accepted that Facebook’s benefits exceed any lingering privacy fears, the platform’s new “people-first” ecosystem of data-driven online advertising has emerged and is rapidly gaining traction.

Facebook kicked up the persona-based advertising movement another notch with the recent re-launch of Atlas, which boasts, amongst other things, the ability to target audiences without cookies. (For a quick refresher, a cookie is a snippet of data that resides on a desktop’s browser that can be referenced by a server to ascertain user state, activity, history, etc. Online advertising platforms, especially Google, currently still rely on this data heavily – and not coincidentally, Chrome is the only mainstream browser that doesn’t preach the ability to block cookies easily.)

Circumventing the browser cookie inherently coincides with Atlas’ audience-centric mission as it takes the device (in most cases the desktop) out of the equation, which leaves the actual user.

So what exactly does this mean?

Let’s take one real-world problem that can potentially be solved by targeting beyond the cookie:  irrelevant retargeting ads.  How many times have you seen banner ads everywhere for a product you either don’t care about or have already purchased?  Unless the purchase actually happened on the same device and the same browser that initially tagged you as visiting a particular site, it’s nearly impossible for an ad server to know that you purchased or aren’t interested.

Referencing a centralized user profile via a universal Facebook ID (this is where it starts getting a little Minority Report-like), Atlas immediately has access to more robust, reliable, and device-agnostic data to serve the right ad to the right person at the right time.  One can say this is analogous to direct marketers being able to use data directly tied to Social Security numbers versus names and addresses; it’s potentially concerning for consumers but gold for marketers.

Police arresting you before you’ve committed a crime? That’s the stuff of movies. Advertisers using the whole picture to serve you helpful, relevant ads? If advertisers and government can agree not to be creeps and Big Brothers, that reality might be a lot closer than you think.

Dave Yoo joined 3Q Digital as COO in January of 2013 and leads the Client Services, Social, Display, and Analytics teams in addition to corporate strategy. He brings over a decade of experience in performance marketing and building successful companies.

Top image courtesy of the Minority Report Facebook page.