Over the last week, Facebook has been aggressively addressing user privacy concerns that surfaced during an investigation into Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based data firm, and their use of data to identify and advertise to potential swing voters. In an aggressive sprint to recover from this discovery, Facebook has launched a platform investigation and a bug bounty program, rewarding users that report abuses of data by app developers.
While the investigation and problems within the Cambridge Analytica case had more to do with the mishandling of data by app developers, Facebook’s response has stretched beyond app integrations to begin addressing larger industry concerns about user privacy.
Short-Term Impact on Active Campaigns
Custom Audience Size and Insights Removal
On Monday, Mar. 26, Facebook removed audience insights reporting for custom audiences and started removing custom audience size estimates from audience management views. While some audience sizes are still visible within the UI, custom audience insights were removed starting on Mar. 23.
Facebook Custom Audiences are generated from first-party audience data, either by website pixel data or from imported offline records matched to desired Facebook user IDs. Once these audiences were created, Facebook offered audience size and insight estimates to better understand trends within that targeted segment. Some profile trends included in-market behaviors, purchase behaviors, age, gender, household income and other demographic profile points.
Facebook has not said whether this will be permanently removed, but is actively working on solutions like the recently announced “Custom Audiences Certification Tool” to prevent disreputable advertisers from accumulating personal information of new audiences from data brokers to upload as their own.
Partner Audience Removal
Another announcement came later in the week that really peaked advertisers’ attention: Facebook plans to remove advertisers’ ability to target against all Partner Data segments (usually referred to as third party data). Rolled out in 2013, this feature will be sunsetted in 2018, with the rollback scheduled over the next six months.
Targeting against Partner Data segments allowed advertisers to target based on third-party data from well-known data brands like Axciom, Epsilon and Datalogix. These third-party audience segments within the Facebook ecosystem expanded a marketer’s targeting options and allowed greater integration across channels like display, video, native, etc., where this third-party targeting has been a standard practice for years.
The Partner Audience rollback will start with campaigns targeting audiences built from the UK, Germany and France, reflecting the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation. Those campaigns will continue to run until May 24. Within non-EU geographies, campaigns can be built or edited up until Jun. 30 and run until Sep. 30. Starting Oct. 1, Partner Categories will no longer be a targeting option in the platform.
Unless you are advertising in the EU, the planned changes are not fully rolled out for another six months on Oct. 1, so work with your campaign manager to understand which third-party audiences are being leveraged and how much of your Facebook budget taps into each segment. Understanding this will help mitigate performance fluctuations once the removals begin to impact Facebook campaigns.
As these changes take hold, marketers and brands are waiting to see whether this disruption within Facebook will set a precedent for all other media publishers and impact privacy laws. Does this large shift within one of the largest social platforms signal the end to the abundant collection and sharing capabilities of third-party data companies that have made digital marketing so effective for brands and marketing professionals? Will these third-party data companies and advertising platforms be able to work within the new guidelines to continue offering brands a highly-relevant, seamless engagement experience to connect with their most valuable audiences?
Going Forward with Facebook
Marketers who have relied heavily on partner data will need to get creative within the Facebook targeting ecosystem in order to reach the users they care about. As long as users continue to share interests, life events, behaviors, etc. within Facebook, there will be many valuable targeting segments available to brands and marketers. We anticipate Facebook will continue to evolve their core targeting product, as they have over the past several years.
The Search Agency will continue to drive Facebook performance for our clients by developing audience-centric social strategies to leverage the evolving segments and ad formats that offer the most relevant and engaging experiences within the Facebook auction. In addition, we will continue to analyze trends in media cost and user engagement to understand how large industry targeting changes — like this massive Facebook feature change — will impact overall ad performance for all brands within the digital marketing ecosystem.