This is a guest post from Ben Austin of Absolute Digital Media.
Move over Bing, Google has a new competitor in the form of Facebook.
Ok so we all knew Bing was never really a threat to the search giant, but it gave us something to blog about each time the Microsoft owned engine upped its marginal share of the market. Facebook on the other hand is stepping on Google’s toes in an area that it’s a little more sensitive about. Data. What’s more it looks to be acting much more aggressively towards its goals.
According to eMarketer, Facebook’s share of worldwide revenue from digital advertising across all devices currently stands at 8%, second only to Google’s 32%. With the introduction of its new advertising platform, Atlas, designed to track the effectiveness of online ads, it could be set to encroach further.
What is Facebook Atlas?
Atlas is a digital advertising platform that Facebook acquired from Microsoft last year for almost $100 million. Since then it claims to have rebuilt Atlas “from the ground up”, to offer a way of “bridging the gap between online impressions and offline purchases.” As Facebook users will be familiar with, consumers’ newsfeeds often feature highly targeted ads, based on information from their profiles, such as age, gender and interests. With Atlas, these highly personalised ads will follow you elsewhere across the internet, to other websites as well as the apps you use regularly.
It does this by matching Facebook user data and advertisers’ customer data with a tool called Facebook audiences, matching email addresses and phone numbers with the accounts associated with this information.
Whilst this is great news from an advertiser’s point of view, and stands to make Facebook a lot of money, not everyone is so keen. Understandably. Collecting and analysing detailed info about no less than 1.3 billion users and targeting them elsewhere around the web is nothing short of intrusive and has gathered comparisons to Google’s ambiguous use of data in recent years.
Competing for data with Google
Google is no stranger to the odd privacy or data scandal. As well as the Street View saga, the company has been involved in several court rulings, particularly in Europe, demanding it change the way it handles data about web users.
However it is this data that is partly responsible for it becoming the powerful being it is today, and so it perhaps comes as no surprise that new service, Certified Shops, is all about gathering data. In turn for allowing online retailers to display a badge proving themselves as trusted and reliable, they have to agree to send Google an inordinate amount of detail about their customers and transactions. Google has also reserved the right to use this data for other purposes.
The two web authorities have been locked in a battle of who can gather the most data for some time now but where does this end?
An abuse of power?
The concern is that in their quest to outdo one another and gather the most personal data, they are effectively abusing their power. Both are treading a fine line between proving to marketers the power of ads, and pushing their customers away. New customers may actually shy away from sites with the certified badge, whilst Facebook could end up a network more geared towards generating revenue and less about social interactions. There is certainly a gap between public perception of data usage and what actually happens and both companies are exploiting this naivety.
However, it is important to note that Facebook has stated that users will stay anonymous to advertisers, who will only know basic facts about them.
At the end of the day, this level of data gathering is nothing new. By simply having a Facebook account or browsing the web on a regular basis, people are providing companies like Facebook and Google with information about themselves and about their internet behaviour. The lessons from this are twofold. Users need to become more savvy online and big brands like Google and Facebook need to be careful not to overstep the mark.
Ben Austin is the CEO of Absolute Digital Media, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in the UK.