On March 18, 2018 it became worldwide news that Facebook had failed to adequately protect user data and companies were exploiting ‘loopholes’ in Facebook’s terms around what developers could do with user data.
We won’t go into the nitty gritty of what happened or why…
Instead we’ll focus on what changes Facebook is making to its advertising options and what that means for us as advertisers.
Here is a timeline of the developments. We’ll keep this updated as things change.
April 10, 2018 – Removing Audience Insights for Custom Audiences
This one is a bummer – on April 10th, Facebook announced that they were removing the ability to analyze your Custom Audiences in their Audience Insights tool. Audience Insights is a tool that Facebook launched in 2014 as a way to glean helpful information about various audiences on Facebook. For example, you could upload your existing customer file and find out what pages your customers tend to like on Facebook, what age ranges they are, genders, household income, purchase behavior, etc. You could also do the same thing with a Custom Audience based on your website traffic or Facebook Page engagement.
How does this affect us? While these tools have been very helpful over the years, our ad optimization processes have moved more toward leveraging pixel data and so we have been using Audience Insights less and less over the past year. It’s a bummer to see a fun tool go, but it won’t have much on an impact on our ad performance and we’re all for putting user privacy first.
March 31, 2018 – Adding Email Certification for Custom Audiences
On March 31st Facebook announced they were building a Custom Audiences certification tool that would require marketers to “represent and warrant that proper user consent has been obtained for the use of any data uploaded.”
As far as we can tell, it appears that it will simply be a checkbox of some sort that you have to click before uploading Custom Audiences with email addresses. The Custom Audiences terms have always required that businesses have permission from the subjects to use the data, but does anyone actually read those? And will this new tool they are building stop any nefarious use of the Custom Audience functionality? We’ll see…
March 28, 2018 – Ending Targeting by Partner Categories
Since 2015, advertisers have had the option to utilize “partner categories” in their targeting. These were categories of users comprised of things like purchase behavior and financial segments sourced from 3rd party data aggregators such as Acxiom and Datalogix. In the wake of the data breach, Facebook announced on March 28th that they would be gradually phasing out the ability to use these 3rd party data categories in ad targeting over the course of six months.
Here’s the official quote from Facebook:
“We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories. This product enables third party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.”
How does this affect us as advertisers? In reality, we don’t use these categories much… while they seem very powerful on the surface, we haven’t found them to work very well. The costs tend to be higher and we’ve actually seen instances of the targeting being wildly inaccurate.
March 26, 2018 – Pausing Messenger Bot Creation
You may have heard of Facebook Messenger Bots and how powerful they can be for advertising campaigns and customer service. Unfortunately if you don’t already have one created, you’ll have to wait a while. On March 26th Facebook announced that they are temporarily pausing app review which means that no new bots will be approved for use. Existing Messenger bots will continue to function as is, you just can’t create a new one right now. Facebook did not give a timeline for their platform review process so we really don’t know when we’ll be able to create new bots but we’re hoping it will be relatively soon.
How does this affect us? Like some of the other updates, this one is more of an inconvenience than anything. Existing bots are still functioning business as usual, we just have to wait a bit to create new bots.
March 23, 2018 – No Longer Showing Audience Size Estimates for Campaigns Using Custom Audiences
While this one was not directly related to the data breach, Facebook likely moved swiftly on it given the timing. Facebook announced on March 23rd that they would no longer show audience size estimates for any campaign that uses Custom Audiences in the targeting. According to Marketing Land, a research team “…found an exploit in which it could infer attributes of an individual included in an uploaded Custom Audience list of emails, addresses or other personally identifiable information (PII) using the estimated reach reporting available in the advertising interface. It turns out there is a rounding threshold in those estimates. Once that’s identified, an advertiser could potentially upload a list of emails right on the rounding threshold, for example, and then add one email (or “victim”) to the list. If the reach estimates change when a targeting attribute is selected, the advertiser can infer that person has that attribute. And vice versa, if it doesn’t change, then it can be inferred the person does not have that attribute.”
How does this affect us? It’s really more of an inconvenience than anything. The primary impact is that we don’t know the audience sizes when using custom audiences in a campaign creation. That means it’s tough to tell whether our audiences are too small or too large. Hopefully Facebook develops a fix relatively quickly for this but we’re not too concerned in the meantime.