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February 05, 2013

Facebook is Watching Your Every Click

By Jacqueline Lee, Contributing Writer

Targeted Facebook (News - Alert) advertising doesn’t always get it right. The other day, I received a mobile ad for a Louis Vuitton purse. Now I respect good design as much as the next girl, but my discretionary income never gets spent on luxury-name handbags.

So this Facebook ad probably wasn’t generated based on tracking of my Internet activity. Or was it?

If you’ve ever wondered which ads Facebook generates by monitoring your online activity, you’ll soon have a way to find out, thanks to AdChoices.

For instance, when you see an off-putting Facebook ad and mouse over the “X” in the corner to remove it, Facebook will display a blue AdChoices icon for the ad. This icon tells you that the ad was chosen because of the way in which Facebook tracks your browsing activity.

Facebook has always customized ads on your home and profile pages based on the other websites that you visit. If you look at the Louis Vuitton purse collection on your favorite retailer’s website, you could very well see a Louis Vuitton ad pop up on your Facebook homepage.

Facebook anticipates that by the end of March, you’ll know which ads are targeted directly to you and which are not.

So is this a new era of transparency for Facebook? Yes and no. First, you’ll only see the AdChoices icon when you mouse over the “X” to remove an ad. Second, advertisers can choose whether or not to display the AdChoices logo.

On the surface, AdChoices looks like proof that self-regulation can work for the advertising industry. On the other hand, publishers like Facebook need to cooperate with industry goals. Facebook’s implementation doesn’t exactly heed Federal Trade Commission guidelines, which call for clear and prominent notification when an ad is behaviorally targeted.

Since Facebook Exchange (FBX) advertising only operates on the desktop version of the site, the changes wouldn’t have had an effect on my mobile Louis Vuitton ad. But if I’d seen the ad on my desktop browser and had uncovered the AdChoices icon, I’d know I was being followed online.

I’d also know that the third-party following me was probably carrying a very stylish handbag.

Edited by Braden Becker
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