Under Facebook's expansion strategy, Web site partners that integrate the site's functionality have access to certain profile data its users have not made private. They can use that data - including information derived from the universal "Like" button - to personalize content, target ads, or customize retail offers.
The user preference data is available to any Web sites that use the "Log in with Facebook" application, according to Bret Taylor, director of platform products for the Palo Alto, CA-based company. Via an "authorization dialogue," sites deploying the "Log in through Facebook" capability can request parts of the user's profile - for example, favorite movies - and then use that data to target and sell ads, among other actions.
"The best thing for [a Web site] to do would be to put in a 'Log in with Facebook' button on their site," Taylor said. "And then when a user logs in with the Log in with Facebook button, the product that we've to date been calling Facebook Connect...then that site will get access to the user ID and the public parts of the user's profile."
Indeed, as Facebook suggested last week when it unveiled new social plug-ins, its advertising policies remain unchanged. But the implications of those policies have changed, now that the Like button is proliferating around the Internet.
For several months, according to Facebook, marketers employing Connect have been able to pull profile data via an application programming interface (API) for the users who have had their personal attributes set to public in their privacy controls section. ClickZ has made numerous calls to marketers to gauge if they had been pulling that data via Connect for targeting purposes. From those conversations, it appears few brands have tested the idea. Responses varied from "we weren't aware of it," to "we have considered it but haven't done it," to "it would be too difficult to automate that data through our existing system for what the data pay off would actually probably be."
But now, the "Like" buttons placed alongside potentially billions of articles, videos, and retail products, may include a lot of data that will intensely interest marketers. In one example, Levi's has added the button to nearly all of its products at the jeans brand's Web site. (Seen below.) Its home page is adorned with the Facebook logo and greets visitors with the copy, "Declare Your Likes."
Meanwhile, the various companies interviewed said the publicly-set Like button data available through the API could turn out to be much richer than what has recently been available via Connect. Facebook's Taylor said for most users, "those 'Likes' are generally [set to] 'Everyone.'"
Erin Pettigrew, marketing director at Gawker Media, described the Like button as a lightweight installation of Facebook Connect. "I would surmise that the Like buttons will be significantly augmenting any behavioral [or] demographical targeting capabilities," Pettigrew said. "When I learned [about data being accessible via Connect] a while back, I was surprised as I figured that Facebook wanted full access to these demographic variables themselves....I've thought for a long time that they were building a powerful behavioral and demographic targeting platform, [which] comes naturally from owning 'identity' on the Web. So [it was] somewhat interesting to learn that publishers were not technologically barricaded from participating."
Brandon McCormick, Facebook spokesperson, said the privacy settings will work reasonably for both the user and the marketer. "If [a user] goes through their Connect flow, one of the questions they [may] ask you is....'Can we pull the publicly available information from your profile?' If you click 'Yes' and 'Connect,' they are able to use that information to target ads....That's something you have to agree to when you decide to connect to that site."
Targeting and Privacy
Additionally, what particular brands users like has also been available through the Connect API and will continue to be with "Log in with Facebook." For instance, a news site could program their ad-serving system to target some of the 6.9 million "People Who Like" Starbucks on Facebook via the "Log in with Facebook" API when they visit. To be clear, Facebook does not provide the code or a blueprint to extract that user data. But the opportunity exists, with the onus being on site developers to create a streamlined program that can serve an advertiser's goals.
Facebook's Taylor said, "There's a visibility setting in the privacy settings for those likes and interests. And if the user's visibility for that section is set to 'Everyone,' then that would be available to our [early] 'Instant Personalization' partners like Pandora when you visit the site."
Pandora, Yelp, and Microsoft are the first three companies selected by Facebook to test its "Instant Personalization" application, which the social site highlighted last Wednesday during its developer conference. Instant Personalization is designed to share user interests/behaviors with a Web site partner, so that partner can customize the experience.
Pandora CTO Tom Conrad said, "If you layer in the Like buttons that are starting to propagate around the Internet, you are now able to encounter a band [and then] click a Like button, which would add that same kind of information to your profile," he said. "So now, Facebook has gathered together sort of a notion of your musical preferences based in terms of things you are discovering on Facebook and things you are encountering out on the Web - maybe Pandora, maybe other music-related sites."
Conrad characterized the data relationship as non-intrusive, because users have set their "Likes and Interests" sharing preferences to "Everyone."
But questions remain about whether users know they have opted in to share their interests with marketers and Web sites. That's because the default sharing preferences for Facebook's new and existing users' "Likes and Interests" information is "Everyone." Additionally, in the privacy settings for Facebook's Instant Personalization program, the burden is on users to either turn off Instant Personalization or opt out of specific sites on a case-by-case basis.
Some have criticized Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg of taking a cavalier attitude toward user privacy. In an interview in December, when Facebook introduced changes making more user data publicly available, he said, "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."
Break Media's Like Buttons Tally 300K Clicks in One Day
Whether or not user interest data will be available to Web sites for free - or if individual partnerships will be struck between companies and Facebook - remains to be seen. But Web sites are certainly putting up the Like buttons at a feverish pace.
Nick Wilson, CTO for ad network Break Media and its six publisher sites targeting young adult males, said that his company put up thousands of Like buttons on April 22, the day after Facebook's announcements. Twenty-four hours later, he said, the buttons had accrued 300,000 clicks.
"It's going nuts," Wilson said. "We didn't say anything about it. We didn't advertise about it."
He later added, "If you identify yourself at my site as a Facebook user, I get the address of your profile page on Facebook. And if you have made that profile page public...then theoretically on a Web site, I could pull your vacation pictures, I get your friends, what you fan, I could look at your wall and anything else you made public. And I could definitely use that information to target."
Facebook's Taylor also disclosed last week that site developers can take advantage of a real-time search functionality in the new API that can help inform brands for a campaign's copy and design. "One of the things that a few of the people who have been helping us beta-test have built was a widget that showed what people are saying on Facebook about 'X,'" he said. "For a lot of brands, that type of user interface could be really powerful for what people are saying about a Coca-Cola on Facebook."
There's been constant industry buzz about the potential seismic shifts that may have occurred with Facebook's recent moves. Kerry Munro, COO of Toronto-based social media firm Syncapse, suggested that the hype is definitely warranted.
"It basically shifts behavioral targeting to explicit targeting based on the ability of advertisers to position ads against any aspect of an individual's profile," Munro said. "I believe in making these announcements they may have just declared they are eyeing moving past Google on the ad front."
Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
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