Facebook announced today that it’s disabling a form of advertising targeting called Partner Categories, which allowed prominent third-party data aggregators like Experian and Acxiom to provide clients with offline data like purchasing activity to inform ad targeting. The move comes amid the fallout from the ongoing Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, and it follows similar moves from the social network to curtail abusive ad practices. Those include a momentary pause on third-party app approval announced today and new limitations imposed on the volume and type of data third-party apps are given through APIs like Facebook Login announced last week.
As pointed out by Recode, Partner Categories is not what allowed Cambridge Analytica to access as many as 50 million Facebook profiles. The data mining firm was given that data from a third-party app developer in violation of Facebook’s terms of service and without user permission. Rather, data aggregators are able to supplement companies with data they may not otherwise have, allowing marketers and Facebook itself to work together to better target users.
For instance, a company like Pepsi is able to advertise on Facebook using information gleaned from Facebook profiles, information it owns like email addresses, and information it purchases from data aggregators like Experian, which gathers together purchasing history and other valuable information. As part of Partner Categories, Facebook shares revenue with companies like Experian that help inform its data set every time a marketer purchases ad space on Facebook using that data. While this is not necessarily an inherently abusive practice, Facebook clearly views its existence as a potential threat in the waiting, and the company is taking seemingly ever preemptive measure it can right now to fend off future privacy violations and PR disasters like the Cambridge Analytica one.
“We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories. This product enables third party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook,” reads the terse three-sentence post published unattributed to the company’s Newsroom blog. “While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.”