Facebook moves to better explain ad policies in light of dubious Russian ads 

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 29 November 2017

Facebook is attempting to allay users' fears about the foundations of its ad-funded model in the wake of revelations about murky Russian-backed ads.

Facebook uses an ad-funded model to allow people to use its platform for free, however it’s been in hot water recently about the origin and motivations behind some of those ads and is now taking steps to better explain its position to its users to stave off a backlash.

In a new blog post Rob Goldman, VP of ad products, outlined its principles. Within it are a few explanations about how Facebook operates, how users can have better control over the ads they see, and some reassurances about what exactly Facebook does with all their personal data, but it’s also a justification of the platform’s reliance on advertising.

It outlines that as people use Facebook for free, it has to make money somewhere, but concedes “ads shouldn’t be a tax on your experience”.

It all comes back to relevance, he says, which is why Facebook uses the data it gathers and bundles it up in anonymised packages for advertisers. He is quick to point out that the ads users see is based on what’s “most relevant to you, rather than how much money Facebook will make from any given ad”, explaining that it doesn't help Facebook to serve up irrelevant, badly-targeted ads because they get fewer clicks, therefore advertisers get a lower response.

Personal data and how it is used by Facebook and advertisers has long been a friction point with many not understanding what is shared and with whom and some growing scepticism around why they are being shown certain ads.

Goldman is clear that Facebook doesn't sell what it calls “personal information” and that advertisers can never identify an individual, but he didn't offer more on what exact details advertisers do have access to and how that is used to target ads.  

Facebook has always followed the mantra that everything it does is for the user first. Goldman’s post is no different in pushing that message, but it also put the responsibility back on users to control their preferences around the ads they see.

In Facebook’s idyllic view of the type of advertising it wants on the platform, advertising is “safe and civil”.

Goldman moves to outline the mechanisms Facebook has in place to weed out hate speech, bullying, intimidation and other kinds of harmful behaviour, its recently tightened policies around what advertising is and isn't allowed, and how it reviews adverts.

“We may not always get it right, but our goal is to prevent and remove content that violates our policies without censoring public discourse,” he says.

Hold advertisers to account

A significant shift in response to mistrust around ads on the platform, is the introduction of a ‘transparency feature’ that means users will be able to see exactly where the ads are coming from and who is behind them. It’s designed to avoid the sticky situation it found itself in with those Russian-backed ads.

Users can visit any Facebook page and see what ads that brand is running and if they are being served to them in a move Goldman says “will not only make advertising on Facebook more transparent; it will also hold advertisers accountable for the quality of ads they create”.

That can only be a good thing for users and for legitimate advertisers with nothing to hide.

Facebook is making an effort to explain its position, but many users, and advertisers, will still have questions around how the platform uses the information it has, and many are sceptical about its motivations.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au

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