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Are Facebook Custom Audiences Creepy?



I’m conflicted. As both a marketer and a consumer, I love relevance, but also know what data can be pulled to target me. Typically, I understand that my ‘behavior’ is used to reach out to me across different sites, based on cookies being set or matching against content I am consuming on the page.

Fine, I can deal. I’d rather see ads for things I use and appreciate rather than being told that if I can pin the tail on a donkey that I will win a pair of Dr. Dre Beats headphones.

In the spirit of Halloween, it’s getting creepy.

Enter Facebook’s Custom Audiences [2]. Facebook recently announced this new targeting feature available on the ads platform. It states:

“Custom audiences let marketers find their offline audiences among Facebook users. Using email addresses, phone numbers or Facebook user IDs to make the match, you can now find the exact people you want to talk to, in custom audiences that are defined by what you already know.” 

This means that in addition to targeting the types of people you want to reach among the Facebook population, you can now also reach segments of specific people based on information you have about your own, offline audiences.”

As a marketer, I’m on board. I’d love to take a client’s CRM database of contacts, match them to Facebook audiences, and segment the heck out my ad campaigns, creating all kinds of custom funnels and experiences based on what I know about users in my CRM system. This is a real efficient way to merge offline content to online and crank. Win, right?

However as a consumer, I get it but is this just the beginning for Facebook? What other information might they allow matching against next? Relevance wins and I appreciate that. However, shouldn’t I worry about security of my information online? Facebook confirms that we shouldn’t  In their release the encryption and safety of these files being used as follows:

“Facebook never receives your customer list. The list of emails or phone numbers is hashed on your own computer in power editor [3], and only the hashed data is sent to Facebook’s servers. The hashes are used to make the match, and then they are all discarded whether they matched or not. Facebook doesn’t use the data for any other purpose. 

In this way, Facebook is able to find your ideal audiences for you without either company’s data leaving its respective servers.”

Certainly, there are safeguards to protect consumers, which is critical for the adoption of such technologies to build the trust of consumers to want to share their behavioral profile data with marketers for their benefit. In this case, since the data has already been shared, I believe that advertisers can use this tool responsibly to provide relevant content to consumers. But honestly, advertisers need to be cognizant not to expose too much information too often and set off the ‘creepy’ alarm.

For now, I’d recommend advertisers explore this opportunity. Would you use this functionality for your marketing efforts?

About Keith Wilson

Keith Wilson directs The Search Agency's clients on display strategy, campaign execution, and campaign optimization in order to achieve desired ROI metrics. His expertise is in implementing methodologies and strategies for advertisers seeking to yield profitable return on their advertising budget. Prior to TSA, Keith worked at Experian Interactive Media as the Director of Online Partnerships and was responsible for managing the integrated partnership and media buying for strategic partners. In addition, he has worked at United Online as Director of Customer Acquisitions for their Classmates.com online brand, responsible for managing a CPA targeted budget in excess of $30M annually. Keith attended Cornell University.