Advertising has been an integral part of the internet experience since the time the internet began to be used by the general public. Ads make it possible for many websites to be free to use, by giving website owners a way to monetize their site without directly charging each visitor. Though advertising is necessary for the current form of the internet to survive, it can still be annoying to viewers, especially when it feels like the ads lack relevance. Facebook is updating their ad explanation feature to help users understand why they were served a particular advertisement.

Earlier in 2019, Facebook made updates to a feature where users can click on an ad to find out, "Why am I seeing this ad?" This tool was supposed to increase transparency and give users some control over the ad experience. Despite these good intentions, the feature fell short of its goal because people didn't understand the information, or the ad information wasn't particularly meaningful.

As Facebook Product Manager Sreethu Thulasi wrote in a blog post, "Whether you're new to Facebook or have been using it for years, you should be able to easily understand and adjust how your information influences the ads you see. That's why we introduced tools like "Why am I seeing this ad?" and Ad Preferences over four years ago -- to provide greater transparency and control. We made updates to these tools recently, but we heard feedback from people that they can still be hard to understand and difficult to navigate."

Previously, the "Why am I seeing this ad?" feature provided responses that didn't give the user enough information. The answer it gave highlighted one or two of the most relevant reasons, such as demographic information or that the user may have visited a website that uses Facebook for retargeting. However, those reasons are things people could easily have assumed, and it doesn't provide useful, actionable information about the ad experience.

Now, Facebook will show more detailed information on the targeting parameters used, "including the interests or categories that matched you with a specific ad." Similarly, Facebook is making is clearer where that information came from (e.g., the website visited by the user or Facebook Page they liked). Plus, the system will highlight controls that can be used to adjust the Facebook ad experience.

For the most part, this change won't affect the way advertisers place their ads, nor should it affect how much users engage with ads they see. However, there is one thing that marketers should keep in mind. If ads are targeting a demographic in a way that some people would find inappropriate, it will be easier for people to see what was happening.

The Ad Preferences section now shows more information about the businesses that upload user information to Facebook Advertising. One section will feature "Advertisers who uploaded a list with your information and advertised to it." This section includes advertisers that uploaded a list with your information and used that list to run at least one ad in the past seven days. An example of this is an ad from a business that uploaded their email list to Facebook.

A second section will tell users about "Businesses who uploaded and shared a list with your information." This information will help when people's information is entered by a third party. In this section, you'll see the business that initially uploaded a list, along with any advertiser who used that list to serve you an ad within the last 90 days. This should make it easier to understand where third-party data comes from and how it's being used.

Increasing transparency should encourage more ethical behavior by advertisers because it's easier for people to spot bad actors. For more information about changes and updates to Facebook, read this article on the social media giant's new plan to limit the spread of content with sensational health claims.

Published on: Jul 15, 2019
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