Scandals, Changes and Data Privacy: A Marketers Guide to Facebook in 2018
Facebook has been in the spotlight recently for a variety of reasons, ranging from Russian ad buys on the platform to the irresponsible handling of user data. The controversies surrounding the social media behemoth cost even the infallible Mark Zuckerburg as much as $10 billion in a single week after the stock price plummeted. So, what happens to organic – and paid – Facebook strategies as we know them?
In order to stay informed as marketers, it’s important to watch these changes closely. In the last few weeks, Facebook has announced major changes to its platform that will continue to directly impact the way we do our jobs, but to get the full picture of what’s happened and what’s ahead, we need to note a few important dates and events from the past.
Facebook launches Open Graph API, which allows developers to access user data. Developers can use the API to extract user engagement data, send data to a Facebook page, allow users to login to apps through Facebook and much more.
A consent agreement is signed by Facebook from the FTC, which aims to protect user data by requiring consumer consent and barring the platform from making misrepresentations about the security of user data.
App called “This Is Your Digital Life” was launched by Dr. Aleksandr Kogan. The app was able to harvest data from users and their friends on Facebook.
Facebook first discovers that Cambridge Analytica obtained user data from Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, which violated the platform’s terms of service. Cambridge Analytica is a data-mining company that specializes in strategic communication for political campaigns. After both parties notify Facebook that the data has been deleted, Facebook ends its investigation. The social platform also introduces changes to its API that no longer allow developers to access data from a user’s Facebook friends. This measure ensures developers can only access data in which they’ve received direct consent from the user.
Controversies unfold regarding Russian agents purchasing political ads on the Facebook ad platform. This forces Facebook to be more transparent about ad practices, including a transparency report focused on making political ads accessible to the public. Facebook also announces a focus on improving user newsfeed algorithms by showing more posts shared by friends and family.
In March, a bombshell report is released documenting Cambridge Analytica’s improper purchase and use of Facebook data obtained through the quiz app developed by Dr. Aleksandr Kogan. Facebook claims that Cambridge Analytica did not delete the data as promised in 2014. Since the release of the report, Facebook has announced some major changes to their platform as well as the suspension of Strategic Communication Labs and Cambridge Analytica. Facebook also made the following statement on the matter:
March 17, 2018
“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”
How was the Facebook data obtained by Cambridge Analytica?
With the key events outlined, we can dive deeper into what Facebook did wrong.
First, the Facebook API gave developers the ability to collect user data, but this was not a major issue since these particular users previously provided consent. The problem was that developers using the API were able to access to data from app-users’ friends without their consent prior to 2014. These users did not provide consent to the developer, as explained in Facebook’s newsroom post. Facebook claims that Dr. Aleksandr Kogan broke the Platform Policy by selling this data to Cambridge Analytica and both parties lied about deleting the data in 2014, resulting in the misuse of data from as many as 87 million users.
“Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica.”
Despite obvious wrongdoing by the app developers, many people also believe Facebook did not uphold its promise to protect user data as per the 2011 agreement with the FTC. Facebook immediately suspended SCL and Cambridge Analytica. After five days of silence from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has been on the offensive over the last couple weeks, announcing several changes to its policies and features.
What do marketers need to know about the recent Facebook changes?
Facebook has announced major changes to their platform, including:
- Giving users more ability to control their data, including the ability to download their data
- More restrictions for Facebook API and complete deprecation of old Instagram API Platform
- Removal of partner categories for ad targeting and plans to curb amounts of information shared with data brokers
Facebook decided to give users more ability to control and download their data. The new “Access Your Data” tool now allows users to delete data and control the information used to target ads. Facebook also launched a data privacy campaign aimed at giving users more information on proper ways to protect their data.
Facebook and Instagram API Changes
In 2014, Facebook changed their API to prevent developers from accessing data about friends. On April 9, 2018, Facebook announced the immediate shutdown of their Instagram API Platform after initially setting the removal for the end of 2018. This API is different from the Instagram Graph API that is designed to help businesses better manage their presence on the platform. The immediate axing of the Instagram API Platform has hindered software applications that currently use it, some of which include platforms for posting on social media and dashboard and analytics software.
Removal of Partner Categories
One of the biggest changes for marketers is the removal of partner categories. Partner categories allow advertisers to target users directly through third-party data companies, like Axciom and DataLogix. Facebook’s ability to connect third-party data with its own had a huge impact on advertising effectiveness. In my experience, third-party and behavior targeting usually produced better results.
Partner categories can be easily identified in the list of targeting parameters by the source in the parameter description.
Although it’s still unclear how this announcement will impact other targeting parameters, it’s near certain that Facebook will remove any parameter that shows Partner Category as the Source. A blog post from ProPublica states that nearly 600 out of the 29,000 available parameters are available through third-party data brokers. If you use any of these parameters in your ad sets, it’s time to start building a secondary backup audience.
At the end of the day, Facebook must make decisions that drive profitability. We believe it’s unlikely that Facebook will make changes that have a major negative impact on advertising effectiveness, but we know that the next few months will be important for the social platform. Even despite the negativity surrounding Facebook, the social network still has a healthy amount of active users. However, they did see a decrease in usage in the last quarter of 2017. If Facebook does not instill confidence in its users, it’s possible that negative trend could continue.
We know the world of digital moves at light speed – we are monitoring the changes that come to the platforms we all use, love and bank on, and will continue to update this post as the ‘now’ becomes known.