Today Facebook’s VP of ad products, Rob Goldman published a blog post about the company’s ad practices across Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram. In it, he reiterates statements the company has been spouting for years. For instance: “We build for people first,” “You can control the ads you see,” and “Advertising should empower businesses big and small.”
Goldman also says that advertising should be transparent. “You should be able to easily understand who is showing ads to you and see what other ads that advertiser is running,” he writes, noting the company’s plans to launch an ad transparency tool. Last week, amid growing public pressure and facing a deadline issued by one senator, the company announced it would set up a page where users could see if they followed or liked any Russian-sponsored pages used in disinformation campaigns on Facebook or Instagram, but not if they saw or shared any of those posts.
Goldman goes on to write that Facebook advertising “should not divide or discriminate,” something that the company says Russian trolls sought to do using ideologically driven pages and inflammatory targeted ads.
We have Community Standards that prohibit hate speech, bullying, intimidation, and other kinds of harmful behavior. We hold advertisers to even stricter advertising policies to protect you from things like discriminatory ads—and we have recently tightened our ad policies even further. We don’t want advertising to be used for hate or discrimination, and our policies reflect that. We review many ads proactively using automated and manual tools, and reactively when people hide, block, or mark ads as offensive.
Facebook’s assertion comes amid criticism that is separate but related to the spread of Russian propaganda on the platform: that its targeting tools can be discriminatory. For example, last week ProPublica reported that Facebook was still allowing housing advertisements that discriminate against certain ethnic groups (something Facebook admitted was a mistake).
Facebook also asserts that it doesn’t sell user data. No, Facebook isn’t selling your data per se, but the platform isn’t completely transparent about how exactly it’s using it. The company sells access to targeting tools based on your data, allowing advertisers to find you and people like you. Its “lookalike audiences” product, meanwhile, lets marketers upload their own lists of people to target–perhaps gathered from a bustling open market for personal data–and find other Facebook users who are like them. (Stricter rules on consent for the sharing of personal data and its use for marketing under Europe’s GDPR, which comes into effect next year, will require Facebook to share more data with some users.)
This is all to say that Facebook is repeating old lines in the face of new pressure. Ads are how the company makes its billions, and it’s developing new ways to target them at you. (See, for instance, the company’s effort to monetize messaging, which my colleague Ainsley Harris just wrote about: “The whole thesis is, users are going to be able to run their life from Messenger,” says a product director.) Unless Facebook feels that public or regulatory pressure is strong enough to really impact that business, it’s easy to expect little in the way of change when it comes to problematic ad targeting—but possibly more blog posts.
You can read Goldman’s full post here.