Facebook to target ads based on what mobile apps we use

Filed Under: Facebook, Mobile, Privacy, Social networks

Facebook MobileDo you use your Facebook account to log onto places like LinkedIn and Yelp from your phone?

If so, get ready to start seeing ads in your mobile device's Facebook News Feed that will be targeted based on your mobile app usage.

Here's how it will work, according to the Wall Street Journal: if you like to play Zynga Inc.'s "Words with Friends," your mobile News Feed will soon target you with ads for yet more Zynga games.

If the WSJ's sources are correct about all this, the new ads will represent a boundary-breaking move for an ad-delivery company, given that none has thusfar tracked consumers on the basis of mobile app usage.

The ads will be enabled by the Facebook Connect feature, which lets users easily log in to third-party sites, applications, mobile devices and gaming systems with their Facebook identities.

Facebook Connect

Sources familiar with Facebook's plans told the WSJ that the company is launching a new type of mobile advertising that will target consumers based on what apps they use, "pushing the limits of how companies track what people do on their phones."

But wait, there's more.

The unnamed sources told the WSJ that beyond tracking consumers' use of mobile apps, Facebook is also pondering whether to track what people do on those apps.

Facebook trackingThat move would be an even bigger game-changer. As it now stands, mobile-ad networks only target consumers based on what ads a person clicks on from his or her mobile browser.

Both Apple and Google track their users' mobile apps, but neither company tracks what people do in those apps.

One of the WSJ's sources said that Facebook will charge advertisers every time an app is installed on a user's smartphone.

That's a highly profitable prospect, the WSJ noted, for obvious reasons - i.e., a heck of a lot more consumers download apps than click on ads:

Facebook can charge significantly more for an app installation than it can for the traditional cost of every one thousand people who have viewed an ad.

Privacy advocates would far prefer that Facebook let users log in with Facebook Connect and then have a way to opt out of the new mobile ad targeting.

The WSJ quoted Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's project on consumer privacy, who noted that consumers just aren't used to having ad companies peering over their shoulders every time they use a mobile app:

"Once you're signed in, are you really expecting that Facebook is going to be watching you while you're on there?"

LinkedIn on an iPhoneOf course, with the post-IPO Facebook now under the gun to monetize features such as Facebook Connect, it's hard to imagine that the company won't track what people do in their mobile apps.

What would that look like? The possibilities are limited only by our activities while using mobile apps.

Searching for experts in a given field - say, infosec! - in LinkedIn, for example, would open up whole new worlds of targeted advertising.

One of the WSJ's sources said the new ads might be announced on July 16, unless privacy concerns convince the company to hold off on mentioning it until Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg conducts the company's first earnings call with analysts on July 26.

The new ads would then launch on July 30, the source said.

If you want to learn more about privacy and security on the social network and elsewhere on the internet, join the Sophos Facebook page.

What do you think of Facebook's plans to target adverts in this way? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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9 Responses to Facebook to target ads based on what mobile apps we use

  1. Greg Williams · 1185 days ago

    Another example of a company trampling on its users for a few more dollars. An opt out is more than called for, it needs to be required. How far are we going to allow them to go before we say goodby, good ridance.

  2. Freida Gray · 1185 days ago

    I think that sucks.Facebook is going to try charging advertisers every time a Facebook user downloads an app to their phone? Why?Facebook doesn't own the phone or the user.All-in-all it is probably a good idea to set your browser to "Tell websites I do not want to be tracked".... if you haven't already done that.

  3. Kees · 1185 days ago

    I think Facebook might run foul of the European Union privacy laws here.

  4. Father of Anarchy · 1184 days ago

    I think not a lot of people understand what that means and continue using Facebook even if FB sold all their information.

  5. Ips · 1184 days ago

    Looks like Zuckerberg is planning a good retirement package for himself. Track users in every way you can....and when Facebook becomes obsolete, sell this data to marketers and rest in peace for generations.

  6. What makes you think he isn't selling it *right now*?

  7. John · 1183 days ago

    This is exactly why I don't have a Facebook account.

  8. DoubleD · 1111 days ago

    Yikes and yikes again.

  9. Facebook needs to make money, I'm hoping that won't be their downfall... Myspace anybody?

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.