Facebook announced Wednesday it is shuttering an advertising program that used data from third-party brokers to precisely target ads to users of the social network — a change that comes as Facebook wrestles with criticisms that it has been cavalier about how it manages data on its some 2 billion users.
The move could fundamentally alter Facebooks hugely profitable advertising business, which has long let marketers narrowly target consumers using a blend of data from both Facebook and outside sources. “While [data-broker integration] is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve peoples privacy on Facebook,” said a corporate blog post attributed by the company to Graham Mudd, Facebooks director of monetization product marketing.
The massive data caches at issue are collected and sold by companies like Acxiom, Experian, and Oracle Data Cloud. They enable advertisers to use the Facebook ad platform to go after customers based on offline behavioral or demographic details like, says Facebook on a page advertising the program, whether a user is a “homeowner, shampoo buyer, or likely investor.” That sort of targeting, known as “Partner Categories” in Facebook parlance, has been a core plank of the companys advertising business.
Facebooks move comes as it is embroiled in controversy over its data practices. The company faces heavy criticism — including from lawmakers in the U.S. and U.K. — for allowing the Trump campaign-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica to get and hold data on some 50 million Facebook users.
The change could shine a light on the little-understood data practices that undergird the enormous digital advertising industry that serves as the revenue engine for much of Silicon Valley. Those practices could trouble users once brought into the public debate.
Facebooks data-broker targeting had been available for audiences in U.S., Brazil, France, Germany, the U.K., Australia. and Japan. The cost of using the data was included in the prices advertisers pay to Facebook to run their spots on the site.
Early Wednesday, Facebook announced that it was making changes to the platform to make its privacy and security tools easier to find and use.