Pushing Privacy Boundaries: Does Facebook’s New Advertising Feature Go Too Far?


If you spend any time on Facebook, you’re probably familiar with the social network’s mixture of highly-targeted ads based on your most recent online searches and ads that seem to be the exact opposite of that.

But a few months ago Facebook started rolling out a new type of ad. One that some users might think goes a little too far.

The new ads look a lot like the standard Facebook ads, the results of clicking on one is pretty similar to what happens when you click on a regular ad. In fact, you might not notice anything different unless you don’t buy anything.

That’s when you’ll get a notification on Facebook. That’s right: Facebook will send you a push notification encouraging you to buy something after you go window shopping on a different website.

The ads are part of Facebook’s “Offers” program. It originally launched in 2012, as a way for advertisers—particularly brick and mortar businesses—to offer coupons to Facebook users.

In late August, Offers were relaunched with additional features, some aimed directly at online retailers.

Among those features are push notifications reminding users that they have an “unused Offer” if they click on an Offer and don’t buy. Users also receive a notification when an unused Offer is expiring.

For Facebook, the advantage of Offers is obvious: it allows purchases to be directly attributed to specific ads, even if those purchases aren’t made immediately or are made offline.

In the metrics-driven world of online marketing, it’s pretty clear when an ad leads to an immediate purchase but many higher-ticket items don’t lend themselves to that sort of spontaneous purchasing. It’s a similar case with offline services, a Facebook ad for a restaurant might be effective, even if the customer doesn’t click on it.

By giving costumers a code that can be tracked back to a specific Facebook campaign, and eventually individual users, businesses can judge the effectiveness of their ad buy.

If these campaigns are successful, that means even more ad dollars will flow to Facebook.

The new features also have a pretty clear advantage for brands. Almost 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned, so the ability to remind potential customers to complete a transaction could be pretty valuable.

But, for Facebook users, the experience can be a little jarring. Even though Facebook integrates with numerous websites—powering things like log-ins and comment sections—what happens on other websites isn’t usually reflected directly on Facebook itself, especially in the form of a notification.

There doesn’t seem to have been much pushback from users yet but it may be the result of Offers being relatively slow to catch on. Though, as with everything on Facebook, it’s a little hard to tell which experiences are universal and which are a little more subjective. Offers may be more popular in certain areas or among brands targeting specific demographic groups.

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