Listening to Beyoncé? Facebook Has an Ad for You

The fine line between social sharing and eavesdropping

You've long suspected that Facebook was listening to you—now we know it definitely will be. With your permission, of course. The social network appears to be preparing to serve ads to users based on a Shazam-style feature that picks up via the microphones on devices with Facebook's app installed—watching Breaking Bad? Check out this ad for the new drama on AMC. Listening to OutKast? Try Ludacris.

"You can imagine how it could be helpful if you posted you were listening to a Beyoncé song and then we show you an ad for an upcoming Beyoncé concert," a Facebook spokeswoman told Adweek. "On the TV and second-screen front, we'll use the information we receive from this to enhance all of the services we provide, but we have nothing specific to announce regarding listening/viewing data for partners right now."

Sounds like there's plenty in the works, though.

Facebook's ad strategy is getting more sophisticated every week; with the new tool (which Facebook stresses is optional, though you know how it is: If people like it and it's convenient, that's better than mandatory), it'll have far more information about something Nielsen, Acxiom and other data giants conduct huge panel studies to determine: user media habits. Not the media habits users write down in diaries, but what people actually do and might not self-report to anyone but their friends—who marathons Murder, She Wrote until 3 in the morning or listens to nothing but Ween for three straight months.

Key points from Facebook:

  • It's optional! Stop yelling at us, it's optional!
  • None of the recordings are stored anywhere, we swear!
  • It's an easier way to do what you were already doing—recommending songs and movies and TV shows to pals over the social service.

Key points from us:

  • It's totally fair to wonder where the data derived from the recordings—song title, album, etc.—is stored and where it goes. Based on the fact that this is being used for marketing, the short answer seems to be "to people who are willing to pay to know what you're into."
  • It's hard to make this not creepy. Facebook is using your cellphone to listen to you and serve you ads. It's doing it all in the name of user convenience, of course, but it's still doing it.
  • Marketers are going to love this. Dynamic ad serving has been a pipe dream for so long, and Facebook's multi-billion-person user base is everyone's favorite thing for that specific purpose.

Now, here's a very friendly video on the new feature showcasing a fun track from Jones Street Station called The Understanding. Which marketers will soon have. Of you.

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