- Facebook this month will add a feature to its app and website that lets users see how their contact information is used for ad targeting. Users on Feb. 28 can activate the new Custom Audiences feature by clicking on the "Why am I seeing this?" button in the drop-down menu on posts, TechCrunch reported.
- Users will be able to see when marketers uploaded their customer lists — which may include information like names and email addresses — to Facebook as part of their efforts to reach them on the social network. Users also will be able to see when a marketer shared that contact information with an ad agency, and when Facebook served them a marketer's ad.
- Facebook also will provide more general information explaining how its ad targeting works based on a marketer's Page Name, such as, "There may be other reasons you're seeing this ad, including that Page Name wants to reach people ages 25 and older in the United States. This is information based on your Facebook profile and where you've connected to the internet."
Facebook's upcoming Custom Audiences transparency feature appears to be a solid step toward helping to police third-party abuses of the social network. The social behemoth depends on massive data-collection efforts to provide advertisers with more effective audience targeting, but has endured data breaches that exposed people's personal information to third parties. Facebook last year started requiring advertisers to pledge that they had permission to upload customer lists for ad targeting, but there was little financial incentive to do so, as TechCrunch points out.
By allowing people to see how their contact information is being shared among marketers and Facebook, users can make more informed decisions about controlling what they see in their news feeds. Users can help to verify that a marketer has permission to utilize their information for ad targeting, and take steps to report the ad or block it. The individual actions of billions of Facebook users could help to weed out some abuses of the social network and possibly cut down on wasteful ad spending by marketers that reach unreceptive audiences.
The Custom Audiences feature is one of many Facebook initiatives to improve the user experience of late. CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Feb. 4 said in a post that the company plans to spend more than $3.7 billion on safety and security features for the platform, after years of controversies related to the mishandling of user data. He said the company had 30,000 people — most of whom are likely independent contractors — working on safety and security at the end of last year, Variety reported.
The feature comes as Facebook faces increased scrutiny by governments and other tech companies. Germany's Federal Cartel Office, the country's antitrust watchdog, on Feb. 7 cracked down on Facebook's data collection practices after ruling the company abused its market dominance to collect information about people without their knowledge or consent, Reuters reported. German authorities objected to Facebook's methods of gleaning user data through apps, including the social network's WhatsApp and Instagram platforms, and of tracking people who don't use Facebook. The social giant plans to appeal the ruling. Apple last week temporarily banned Facebook from a program that lets companies create iOS apps for internal employee usage, saying the social network improperly used it to track the web-browsing habits of teenagers.