Facebook: ‘We’re not closed, we’re protecting our users’ data’

Speaking ahead of his Dmexco appearance Facebook's lead Atlas spokesperson counters claims that his ecosystem doesn't qualify as a 'walled garden', adding that its detractors are envious of the quality of its data, and that the social network's protection of its data is born out of its commitment to user privacy.

It’s one of the weeks of the year for European ad tech events with the two-day Dmexco conference scheduled to kick off in Cologne, Germany, this week. One of the conference’s most high-profile attendees Brian Boland, VP of advertising technology, Facebook, shares his opinions with The Drum on some of the key issues in the sector, including: why Facebook isn’t really ‘closed’; why desktop isn’t necessarily dead; and attributing offline sales, to online ads.

The Drum: Atlas’ proposition is people-centred marketing given the demise of the cookie as a tracking and targeting tool, can you explain more why you think it’s the best on the market?

BB: Cookies were great when they were created a decade ago, when people were using only one browser, and they could help you do the basics such as measurement, and controlling frequency.

However, as people started to use more browsers – there’s no such thing as a browser loyalist – even on [just the] desktop. And as more data started to be used around targeting, we found that the cookies associated with that data were inaccurate.

So in a multi-browser world even just counting reach is just incorrect, we see that from using Atlas. So we see an overstatement of reach on campaigns. So you might get data saying you’re hitting 100 million users, whenever you’re actually only hitting 58 million.

These are huge discrepancies, and you’d think you could get things like gender right, but you look at the Nielsen data and it’s only 60 per cent right. Try and layer on age with that (within a five year bucket), and that goes down to around 40-49 per cent accuracy.

When marketers start to use these tools, they start to learn a lot of things about their marketing, and start to feel bad. They shouldn’t, as they are using the best tools available, but they often do.

The difference now is that there are better tools available, with the people-based marketing approach. This helps you make ads more personalised, and targeted. That’s powerful just on desktop, but because it’s people-based [through Facebook’s logged-in data], we can take that to mobile devices as well.

The Drum: So would you say that marketers would have to shift to a cross-screen focus?

BB: Yes, definitely. Desktop is not dead, it’s not going anywhere. You need only look at recent ComScore numbers, and you’ll see that desktop is not decreasing. In fact, we’re seeing all time spent [online] dramatically increase. So it’s not so much about a shift to mobile, as it is about new behaviours.

For instance, if you want to search for something, or watch long-form content, you’re likely to do that on desktop, whereas mobile is more about short-form sessions, where you’re discovering, or communicating. It’s a completely different paradigm.

So when you think about the massive amount of time spent both on desktop, and mobile, that poses a challenge for marketers, as they want to reach them on both.

With a people-centred approach, you can tie that to in-store sales, not just the desktop ones, and using this you can tell the real spectrum of the story for a marketer.

The Drum: How exactly are you able to connect in-store sales to online ads? It has been said that this is through to the capture of the email address that is associated with a Facebook users’ account. But how exactly are you able to do that?

BB: Yes, that’s one of the mechanisms that we can use. The retailer can capture the email address through any of the CRM tactic they use. That can be asking for a customer’s email address at a cash register, which is increasingly common, or through store loyalty cards.

The power of Atlas is that it really unlocks the CRM systems brands have been building for years. Whereas that used to be about sending users items, etc., that data can now be used to power your online marketing.

The Drum: So how is Facebook working to promote Atlas? Is it through educational sessions, or workshops, etc?

BB: All of the above. We’ve taken an agency-first approach with Atlas, because this is the kind of product, this unlocks the power of what they do. What this does is take their creative brief, and then turn it into reality. Now they can reach their ideal customer, instead of reaching the broadest mass of people on somewhere like TV.

Then we’re taking that further working with the CMOs, and brand managers, so they can see what the use of it is to them. For a lot of companies, they were only just getting their heads around cookies, and now you have this huge change in behaviours, and it’s not coming at a pace that’s slow.

It’s not that mobile is shifting. That’s done. It already happened. As a company, you’re going to have to address that, balance to those changes.

The Drum: If we look at the wider ad tech industry, it’s pretty obvious that the debate around ‘walled gardens’, and closed versus open ecosystems, is one of the narratives of the time. There are those that would label Facebook and Atlas as the former, but you seem to be coming out countering those claims recently. Can you explain further?

BB: Correct. I mean, it’s great rhetoric. It’s the kind of thing that people like to sell against, as it gives them the opportunity to create fear, uncertainty and doubt.

So when people talk about ‘open’ or ‘closed’, they’re trying to pick at something that companies are ‘open around’, or ‘closed around’. However, it’s say that every company has something it is closed around, or open around, so it’s a funny argument to me.

The important thing is that the cookie world in an age where there was just data flowing everywhere, and there was not rights responsibilities around those aspects of data.

However, the world has fundamentally changed now. People should have control of their data, and have rights around that. People should be able to understand what data is out there about them, and be able to control it. For us, we protect people’s information. We protect the identity that people have put into Facebook, and when we use that for people-based marketing, we make sure that information on people is protected. So people [advertisers] can’t take that and use that elsewhere.

That gets criticised as being closed. I don’t think that’s closed, I think that’s privacy protective. And I think that’s a responsibility we have to people.

We also have a platform that works really well with ecosystem partners. So our strategy, that began on the Facebook side, and is something we’ve extended over to Atlas, is to be partner-centric, and ecosystem-centric. Look how we work with companies like Nielsen, and DataLogix on measurement. We think that they provide important services to the ecosystem. In addition, we have search, and video partnerships that we use on Atlas. That’s a great thriving ecosystem that’s built on top of our platform.

The Drum: Do you think the different attitudes to what is ‘open’, and what is ‘closed’ from the likes of Facebook and Google, compared to pure-play ad tech companies such as AppNexus, is born out of the fact that the alleged ‘walled gardens’ are also consumer brands?

BB: Absolutely. I think there’s two things at play:

1.) Most of these other companies would love to have the data that we have, and they know their data is inaccurate. And they also know our data is accurate. This creates a tension for them.

2.)There’s also a difference in the way that those companies have grown up. They grew up in a world where data was fluid, and they could just grab it, and take it from anywhere, without people ever really knowing. So you had companies that people had never heard of before gathering masses of information about them. We took a very different approach when we adopted ad preferences last Fall. We let people know what targeting information there was round them, and let them control it.

We do a lot of workaround the transparency and control piece. We think that people should expect that.

Brian Boland will be speaking on a panel entitled: ‘SOLVING THE MARKETERS LATEST CROSS-EVERYTHING DILEMMA' at Dmexco this week.

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Ronan Shields

I cover digital media trading and martech for The Drum magazine, plus I write my own opinion pieces, I don't really commission them.

All by Ronan