Facebook expands user tracking to advertisers, but claims it won't be intrusive


Facebook is launching a number of new tools for advertisers in an attempt to go up against search company Google's online advertising empire.

While the tools may help advertisers, many users may see them as an invasion of privacy because of the way they make use of users' data.

The new tools are called "people-based marketing." The features will be showed off at an event this week in New York. One feature is that advertisers will be able to see how often a particular individual sees their ads, regardless of device. The identity of each individual will remain anonymous.

Facebook's ad platform is collectively called Atlas, which gathers data based on what users reveal about themselves on the social network and other sites in which users log in through Facebook. Atlas itself was acquired by Facebook from Microsoft in 2013.

"There is just a huge shift to mobile and we're capitalizing on it by offering personalized marketing," said Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in an interview. "Facebook has been built around people and focused on people since day one."

Facebook has set up meetings with advertisers this week to pitch the new tools at Advertising Week. A number of companies will use the product, with Omnicom Group Inc. being one of the first through PepsiCo Inc. and Intel Corp., which are both clients of Omnicom.

"You can get the right person at the right time on the right device," said Omnicom Digital CEO Jonathan Nelson. "It's going to shift dollars, from more broadcast-oriented stuff to more finely tuned messaging."

Atlas will also let advertisers use Facebook data to track users on Instagram. While it certainly raises privacy concerns, the company says advertisers will not be given any data about the identity of the user or anything beyond what users themselves set in their privacy settings.

"This year we did people-based privacy controls, and we're doing people-based marketing," continued Sandberg. "This doesn't tell marketers who you are, and when Atlas uses Facebook data it honors the Facebook preferences of the user."

Instagram itself has also been improving its advertising features of late, with Omnicom yet again a major partner. Omnicom has spent millions of dollars in advertising on Facebook and Instagram, as well as a lot of time making sure that its database works smoothly with Facebook.

The technology is said to be a lot better than cookies, because of the way that cookies aren't very efficient when used alone. Cookies also do not work on mobile, which means advertisers are missing out on a huge market.

"Today's technology for ad serving and measurement -- cookies -- are flawed when used alone," said Erik Johnson, head of Atlas. "Cookies don't work on mobile, are becoming less accurate in demographic targeting and can't easily or accurately measure the customer purchase funnel across browsers and devices or into the offline world."

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