Photo: AP

Facebook’s big data-sharing scandal apology tour continued on Wednesday with the announcement the site would be cancelling its “Partner Categories” advertising section, in which the site partners with third-party data brokers to aggregate even more monetizable information about users.

Per the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is under the impression that this will somehow help dispel the (entirely accurate) notion that the site has aggregated too much data about its users:

The measures, part of which Facebook announced late Wednesday, affect a group of so-called data brokers such as Acxiom Corp. and Oracle Corp.’s Oracle Data Cloud, formerly known as DataLogix, that gather shopping and other information on consumers that Facebook for years has incorporated into the ad-targeting system that is at the core of its business.

Facebook said it is ending an ad-targeting option called Partner Categories that lets such data brokers target specific groups of Facebook users—people who buy a certain product, for example—on behalf of their ad clients. Facebook believes shutting that system down “will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook,” Graham Mudd, product marketing director at Facebook, said in a post Wednesday.

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Facebook will additionally stop providing “anonymized data from its platform to such data brokers” for the purpose of measuring ad-campaign effectiveness, sources told the Journal. Another example of the kind of company that might be impacted by the shift, Recode noted, is credit-reporting agency Experian, which has records on hundreds of millions of people in the US.

As the Journal wrote, some of these brokers have huge “reams of information on people’s purchases, household income, and other characteristics” that the Partner Categories tool matched with Facebook users for advertisers. That meant third parties could target Facebook users with very accurate ads even if they put minimal information into the site. Per the Journal, though, the scope of this change is unclear:

... Many marketers have their own consumer data that they upload to Facebook and use in ad campaigns—a practice not affected by the new changes.

Still, some big ad categories will be hampered. “This will be brutal for advertisers” that do not have first party data on their customers such as consumer product companies who depend heavily on the information from third party data firms, said one ad buyer.

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In other words, while this decision might improve privacy to some degree, ending Partner Categories mostly impacts Facebook’s ad targeting tools and eliminates one possible way by which data could be leaked in the future. It’s yet another change that probably should have been made before but wasn’t until Facebook needed to throw up a public charm offensive, like its announcement today it will be rolling its web of privacy settings into one screen.

If this policy was in place before, it would not have changed anything with regards to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which involves permissions in prior versions of Facebook’s API that gave a shady app the ability to collect extensive data on up to 50 million users without their consent. That controversy has now resulted in the company’s stock falling by nearly 20 percent, an ongoing Federal Trade Commission investigation, and delaying the launch of its in-home surveillance device smart speaker. Tweaking the ad model at the margins doesn’t really directly address the key concern, which is that extensive pools of Facebook user data are apparently floating out there, and the company does not yet know how many others may have access to it.

[Wall Street Journal/Recode]

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