November 01, 2010, 3:26 PM — Last week I wrote about how data brokers like Rapleaf mine social networks to create detailed (yet allegedly “anonymous”) user profiles, which they then sell to advertisers. The rationale for profiling is that it offers people ads that are “more interesting” to users – and thus more effective for advertisers. So it’s a “win win.” Right? Ummm, not exactly.
For one thing, those profiles are not anonymous, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out. In fact, just last week Facebook revealed that some of its developers had sold personally identifiable information about app users to data brokers. Nice.
For another, ad targeting circa 2010 is kind of like throwing water balloons at a moving car – you might land one on the windshield, but most will end up splattering the street.
[ See also: This ad has been brought to you by you, part I ]
Facebook is a good example to look at for ad targeting, because its business model is based on tailoring ads to the information you’ve volunteered up on your profiles. As with Google text ads, anyone can buy a Facebook ad and specify who sees it; the difference is that Facebook lets you drill down to an amazingly detailed degree.
For example: I could target the above ad to single straight women between the ages of 18 and 55 living in New York City who are fans of “Sex and the City.” Facebook will even tell me how many Facebook members fit that profile (just under 19,000). If I wanted to zero in even more, I can narrow down to women who graduated from a specific college or work in a specific place, as long as those organizations have Facebook profiles. (And yes, I can also target gay women or men, if I wanted.)