New “Off-Facebook Activity” Launch Hobbles Ad Targeting
Almost two years after introducing its initially named “Clear-History” feature, Facebook has finally rolled out its new Off-Facebook Activity feature to users, coinciding with Data Privacy Day.
The new off-Facebook activity feature forms part of a more extensive platform privacy update, impacting marketers in a variety of ways.
However, the headline takeaway for marketers is the control which the feature puts back into the hands of Facebook users to disconnect their off-Facebook browsing behaviour from ad targeting. In effect, opting-out of being remarketed to.
Not dissimilar, in principle, to how wiping a browser cache deletes remarketing cookies and more.
Despite being announced at 2018’s Facebook F8 Conference, the feature is only going live now after months of delays. The feature was rolled out in beta version to users in South Korea, Spain, and Ireland in late 2019.
Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy, and David Baser, Director of Product Management
‘Since Off-Facebook Activity is a new kind of tool, there was no template for us to follow. Our engineering teams redesigned our systems and built a new way for them to process information. We also conducted months of research to get input from people, privacy advocates, policymakers, advertisers and industry groups. We made important changes in response to what we learned.’
It is important to note that Facebook isn’t deleting the data that might have been collected.
Instead, it’s removing the connection between that data and a user’s personal information on Facebook (any old data associated with an account is unlinked, as well).
Understanding The Feature From A User Perspective
You can find the controls in the Facebook app or website by navigating to the settings menu. From there select “Your Facebook Information” and “Off-Facebook Activity.”
From here, you can view the apps and websites that have been sharing your info, delete the associated histories, and set limits on how this data sharing occurs in the future.
For example, there are 242 websites and apps which have shared my usage behaviour with Facebook in the past 30 days. Including everyone from The Economist, to Taste.com.au to Crocs.
Don’t judge me.
There’s a “clear history” button at the top of the page that will erase all the off-Facebook data presented, and you can click on each app or website in the list to see how much data they’ve shared and stop them from doing so.
If you choose to delete all the shared data and prohibit those third parties from providing Facebook with info tied to your account, you’ll still see ads on the platform, but they’ll be less relevant to your interests. Which has pros and cons for users.
My wife has said that she will leave me if I ever buy Crocs.
Facebook Remarketing & General Ad Targeting Takes A Hit
This update impacts marketers in two obvious ways:
Potentially removing the ability to remarket to website visitors
- Smart marketers who invest in social media generally have the Facebook pixel running on their website/landing pages/apps
- Excluding some sensitive private industries such as financial services, healthcare, etc.
- Excluding publishers who identify the pixel as representing a conflict of interests with a rival
- Excluding some public sector organisations which are mandated not to use
- When a web user visits their site they then follow up this user with tailored ads on the Facebook network based upon the user’s on-site browsing behaviour
- The original website visitor can be targeted in this way for up to six months
- As of now, Facebook users can now opt-out of this by manually clearing their off-Facebook activity
Reducing the effectiveness of Facebook’s wider audience profiling for ad targeting
- In tracking Facebook users off-Facebook behaviour it helps them understand the needs, wants and desires of its user base much better
- Unlike with Google’s business, much of what is done and said on Facebook has little real world usefulness, as various independent studies demonstrate
- Disconnecting a user’s off-site behaviour, therefore, strips away valuable intelligence on users more holistically
- Therefore, also impacting interest ad targeting, i.e. People interested in kitesurfing, etc.
The direct, and indirect, impact of this latest update could be profound for both markters and Facebook alike. Facebook CFO David Wehner, speaking at a Morgan Stanley conference in February last year, noted:
“It’s one of the factors that’s contributing to our expected deceleration of revenue growth throughout the year.”
The reality is if you remove strong behavioural cues or ‘intent’ signals from internet advertising, it’s little better than any other medium. If not worse, due to the small size of the screen and the goldfish like attention web users possess when racing through social feeds.
Whilst this is unlikely to prompt an exodus of budgets from Facebook, it does require a rethink on social ad strategy in 2020. Perhaps with a growing emphasis on brand building over performance marketing activity, as Facebook targeting capabilities unravel.