Face­book Fol­lows Up, Talks Track­ing User, Busi­ness Be­hav­ior

The com­pany aims to rein in any pub­lic dis­sat­is­fac­tion with ad­ver­tis­ers. But will Congress do the same to the tech gi­ant over user track­ing?

WWD Digital Daily - - Wwd - BY ADRI­ANA LEE

On the eve of launch­ing a cus­tomer feed­back tool to mon­i­tor bad be­hav­ior from Face­book ad­ver­tis­ers, the so­cial gi­ant has re­vealed more about how it keeps tabs on ev­ery­one else.

Dur­ing marathon tes­ti­mony on Capi­tol Hill in April, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Mark Zucker­berg punted on some ques­tions from law­mak­ers regarding his com­pany’s han­dling of data and its ap­proach to user pri­vacy. Now Face­book has sub­mit­ted those answers in a 200-plus page doc­u­ment that fol­lows up on Zucker­berg’s tes­ti­mony and was re­cently re­leased by the Se­nate.

Nat­u­rally, the net­work gathers in­for­ma­tion on what hap­pens on its plat­form, such as time spent and the sales it helps trans­act. But it can also go beyond its own bor­ders to track user be­hav­ior on other apps and sites. A bit of code called a “pixel” al­lows the tech com­pany to mon­i­tor ac­tions af­ter a per­son clicks on a Face­book ad, so it can sup­ply in­sights to ad­ver­tis­ers.

The data in­cludes shop­ping and other ac­tiv­i­ties and is col­lected re­gard­less of whether the user is logged into Face­book at the time. The track­ing ex­tends to lo­cal in­ter­ac­tions on the de­vice it­self, in­clud­ing mouse ges­tures, which can be used to dis­tin­guish be­tween hu­mans and bots. And if users sync con­tacts to find friends they know, they may have also given the com­pany ac­cess to their call logs and text his­tory.

Other data up for grabs: The type of de­vice used to log in to Face­book, the In­ter­net ser­vice provider or cel­lu­lar car­rier that pro­vides the con­nec­tion, which browser plug-ins or ex­ten­sions have been in­stalled, the gadget’s bat­tery level and re­main­ing stor­age.

Face­book is not the only tech com­pany to track users and share in­for­ma­tion with part­ners, and in fact, it pointed this out in the re­port by cit­ing Google. There are also lim­its to what it will mon­i­tor, the com­pany said. It won’t hi­jack de­vice cam­eras or use mi­cro­phones to surveil con­ver­sa­tions. This prom­ise mat­ters even more, in light of Face­book’s own­er­ship of vir­tual re­al­ity com­pany Ocu­lus, which is re­spon­si­ble for some of the key soft­ware and hard­ware in one of the buzzi­est ar­eas of tech to­day.

The re­newed scru­tiny over Face­book’s han­dling of user data may over­shadow its steps to keep bet­ter tabs on ad­ver­tis­ers, al­though those ac­tions might ul­ti­mately mean more to brands and re­tail­ers in the short term.

On Tues­day, the com­pany in­tro­duced a feed­back tool that lets cus­tomers re­view busi­nesses af­ter a pur­chase. “Peo­ple tell us they don’t like feel­ing dis­ap­pointed by busi­nesses who don’t meet their ex­pec­ta­tions of prod­uct qual­ity and ship­ping times,” said Sarah Epps, prod­uct mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of ads at Face­book.

The tool feeds an over­all sat­is­fac­tion score that’s vis­i­ble to the busi­ness, but not users. So users won’t be able to pe­ruse them like Yelp re­views, at least not any­time soon. But Face­book cer­tainly can and plans to work with busi­nesses to im­prove their score. If that doesn’t work, the so­cial net­work will ul­ti­mately limit their ad-buy­ing pow­ers.

In other words, ad­ver­tis­ing part­ners be­ware: Keep dis­ap­point­ing cus­tomers and Face­book will swoop in to un­der­cut your so­cial reach.

As for how Face­book it­self uses peo­ple’s data, all eyes are on Congress to see what it will do next.

Face­book of­fers a new shop­per feed­back tool and sat­is­fac­tion scores.

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