As a result of industry pushback, Facebook quietly dropped its plan to halt delivery of device-level data for mobile apps advertisers on its platform.
In an April report, eMarketer estimates global mobile ad spend will exceed $100 billion in 2016. The shift to mobile devices is fueling expansive growth and profit for many sectors of the industry, especially social networks and mobile apps. Smartphones and their native applications have helped generate a surplus of first-party data over the past several years and the battles over who owns what data have only just begun.
Back in June I wrote an article about the ‘ugly truth’ behind Facebook’s announcement to stop Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) from providing device-level data on consumers who download apps back to the advertiser. At the time, it was my belief that this new policy was an underhanded move to shift app marketers towards Facebook products; ultimately giving them access to an fire hose of (new) first party user data and possibly overstepping many app privacy policies.
Facebook’s proposed plan to shift data funneling, described by many publishers as a “land grab”, could be broken down like this:
- Facebook would stop allowing MMPs to share device-level ID information with clients. Facebook stated, “What’s at the crux of this is people-based measurement.” Instead, advertisers and publishers would receive ad-level information, without being able to identify and retarget consumers. The loss of data would make it difficult to calculate ROI or Lifetime Value (LTV)—a big hit to advertisers on Facebook. MMPs like Fiksu noted, “The change is that we will no longer be able to share the actual device IDs—IDFAs or Android Advertising Identifiers—attributed to Facebook with our clients.”
- To counter this loss of data, Facebook suggested it would help advertisers calculate their ROI and LTV in exchange for receiving potentially proprietary data on customers who buy apps—even apps that have nothing to do with Facebook. This requirement opened the door for greater data collection opportunities for Facebook. Stated one game publisher representative, “Facebook is like the NSA.”
As reported on SocialTimes, Facebook explained the change to clients in an email stating:
“People use multiple devices and are constantly switching between them throughout the day. This activity is becoming more prevalent, with Facebook now accessed the most through mobile devices. As the trend continues, we believe people-based measurement—focusing on audiences instead of devices—is the foundation for determining advertising effectiveness across all of digital. As a result, we are changing reporting for mobile app ads to make them consistent with the rest of Facebook ads.”
Backlash alters Facebook plans—for now
After an initial backlash by app developers and marketers, Facebook moved its implementation date to November 4, 2015. Under further criticism, Facebook dropped the plan altogether.
While Facebook’s plan to strip out device-level data did not make a big hit in mainstream media, Facebook could have been concerned about further sensitizing consumers to privacy invasion. At least one media outlet reported a complaint registered with Apple citing consumer privacy issues.
Without acknowledging that concern, Facebook dropped its plan, and reiterated its belief about people verses device-level data, stating, “We want advertisers to evaluate Facebook ads based on how well they’re achieving business objectives. We advise our advertisers to apply people-based measurement solutions so they can determine when they’re reaching multiple people, not just multiple devices.”
It seems clear that Facebook expected to alter its mobile metrics and boost data collection without serious opposition. This episode is a powerful illustration of why brand marketers must continue pushing publishers to deliver opportunities and solutions—instead of explanations and excuses.
As giants and start-ups jockey for a piece of the unchecked growth of mobile, specifically as it relates to privacy and data, it is almost certain that this issue will rise again.
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