Facebook is shutting down a feature that allowed “data brokers” such as Experian and Oracle to use their own reams of consumer information to target social network users, the company has announced.
The feature, known as “Partner Categories”, will be “winding down over the next six months”, Facebook announced in a terse blogpost. The company says the move “will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.”
Previously, data brokers were able to target specific sets of Facebook users, letting them bring their wider ad-targeting metrics on to Facebook. Now, they will either have to use Facebook’s own targeting tools, or a much more specific form of targeting known as “custom audiences”, which broadly requires companies to have a prior relationship with the users they’re targeting.
Facebook is also closing down a data flow in the opposite direction, preventing the same data brokers from receiving anonymised information about how their ad campaigns have been received.
|The moves come after weeks of bad press for Facebook, sparked by reporting in the Observer and the Guardian that revealed Facebook’s lax oversight of data received by third parties. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
The moves come after weeks of bad press for Facebook, sparked by reporting in the Observer and the Guardian that revealed Facebook’s lax oversight of data received by third parties. Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at Pivotal Research Group, described the move as “an attempt to generate positive press on the privacy front without directly causing a meaningful negative revenue impact.
“On the margins,” he said, Facebook’s claim that the change would improve people’s privacy “is probably true, but if privacy in the use of data on the platform were the goal, the change has relatively limited impact”.
Instead, the move could be an attempt to outflank competitors like Google, Wieser speculated. “We can imagine that Facebook may want to try to make Google and others look worse by comparison to the extent that the use of third party data for targeting is a widespread and highly conventional activity in digital advertising.”
The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, welcomed the news that the feature was shutting down. “I have been examining this service in the context of my wider investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes and had raised it with Facebook as a significant area of concern,” she said. “The use of third party sources of data will be covered in more detail in the report my office will publish soon.”
On Wednesday, Facebook announced a raft of changes to its platform that were aimed at making it easier for users to alter their privacy settings, and ensure compliance with the forthcoming European data protection regulation, GDPR. “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find, and that we must do more to keep people informed,” two Facebook executives wrote in a blogpost.