On September 23, 2020, the social media giant Facebook joined on a virtual discussion as a part of The Atlantic Ideas Festival. Hosted by The Atlantic, the discussion allowed Facebook to share how it is creating new tools to provide people with more control over the information that they add to their Facebook accounts. Also,  Facebook addressed how personalized advertising and privacy are not at odds.

Moving Towards Privacy and Online Advertising on Facebook

An Overview of What Facebook Tackled During The Atlantic’s Virtual Discussion

Erin Egan, the Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook, had an opening remark during the discussion. According to her, it was hard to believe that the consumer Internet has already entered its fourth decade. Now that there is a global COVID-19 pandemic, the internet in 2020 includes a huge range of services. Most of these services are from physical store owners who were forced to close their establishments and switch from brick and mortar businesses to digital. This is the reason why the internet and social media is a vital part of life now,

The services that people can access services on the internet for free. Social networking, private messaging, video calls, and other popular social media features are now available for free. According to Egan, people can access such services without paying a subscription fee because they are supported by advertising. In fact, most of the internet today is brought to people by ads. 

To set some context, Egan made online ads in the 90s as an example. During the 1990s, online advertisements were spammy. She added that she remembers having a website’s content overlaid or blocked with flashing and annoying ads. This is the reason why, for many years, businesses did not believe that online ads could be as effective and as valuable as print and TV advertisements.

However, the years that passed proved businesses wrong. Spammy ads have subsided, and a lot of businesses are finding genuine value in online ads.

What Changed in Online Ads

Egan believes that the key change that made online ads more valuable is the rise of personalization. Online advertisement platforms were able to look for ways to use data in showing better and more relevant advertisements. On top of that, they were able to make ads more personalized. In return, businesses were able to reach people who are likely interested in their brands and products. Needless to say, the development of online ads has created huge efficiencies for businesses regardless of their size. 

Moving Towards Privacy and Online Advertising on Facebook

Also, personalization made it easier to display ads without disturbing the viewer experience. The moment that platforms made advertisements personalized, they no longer have to display flashing banners to attract people’s attention. Instead, they could make ads interesting by improving their relevance, thus getting their target audiences’ attention.

Data Controversy: Buying Facebook Likes

However, the emergence of personalized advertising had its fair share of controversies. Many of these controversies focused on data use and privacy, something that Egan works on with Facebook. Besides, the few years that passed are witnesses to the emergence of concerns. This is especially true around specific kinds of advertisements, such as political ads.

Egan noted that those concerns are serious. It has also become common for people to ask them on Facebook why they don’t just stop showing personalized ads. The same is true for the data on businesses secretly buying Facebook Likes.

The chief privacy officer has an answer to that. According to her, Facebook believes that personalized advertising provides people with the best experience. Also, such ads provide businesses, especially small ones, with the best value. Notably, the vast majority of Facebook’snine million active advertisers are composed of small businesses. 

Furthermore, the benefits of personalized ads for people are real, according to Egan. It helps people discover new products, access services, and receive deals from the brands relevant to them. 

Businesses Buy Personalized Ads Too

Also, personalized ads help businesses. Retailers have increased their reliance on online channels for the years that passed. Now that there is a global pandemic, there is a major shift from face to face services online. 

This shift, however, means different things to businesses of various sizes. True enough, large brands can afford expensive massive online marketing campaigns. But small businesses have a smaller budget. And for those budgets to serve their value, small businesses have to advertise to people who will potentially engage with their products or services. With that being said, there is no doubt that personalized ads are precious for businesses of all sizes. Such ads can connect businesses to people who are relevant to them.

Moreover, the ability of brands to easily connect with people has major real-world consequences. Facebook has partnered with the World Bank and the OECD to survey over 25,000 small business leaders in more than 50 countries. The survey has found out that 26 percent of small businesses have closed in May because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During these tough times, reaching out to customers has been the stepping stone for many businesses to stay afloat.

Moving Towards Privacy and Online Advertising on Facebook

Conclusion on Facebook’s Privacy

Besides, there are millions of websites and applications that sustain themselves by showing ads to users. In a recent study that Facebook ran with the Facebook Audience Network– its ad network, it was found out that there is more than a 50 percent drop in revenue for mobile app ad install campaign. The decrease took place when the social media giant removed personalization from its ads on other companies’ sites. 

Needless to say, personalized ads are more important than people think and give them credit for. Especially now that the pandemic has affected many businesses, connecting with potential customers who will likely interest them is important. This is why Egan noted that people have to focus on building the next generation privacy-enhancing technologies to sustain the ad-supported internet. This way, it will provide a massive amount of value to both people and businesses.


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