Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Facebook ad trial risks new privacy fears

Facebook's planned "retargeting" adverts will appear in users' newsfeeds and risk being seen as too intrusive by users.

Story highlights

  • Facebook is testing 'retargeting' - adverts in newsfeeds tied to member's online behaviour
  • It could be one of its most profitable forms of advertising
  • Analysts say it runs the risk of being seen as too intrusive

Watch this space: advisers say that businesses will do themselves few favours if they cut staff off from using consumer tools such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn

Facebook is testing adverts in its members' newsfeeds that are tied to their behaviour on other websites, bringing one of the web's most effective forms of advertising into the heart of its social network.

The experiment could turn into one of the company's most profitable forms of advertising, though it also risks stirring up fresh privacy concerns if users find it intrusive, according to analysts.

The move, announced in a blogpost on Tuesday, marks Facebook's latest attempt to find new ways for advertisers to tap the largest online audience. The approach, known as "retargeting", is based on a formula that has proved effective on the web, though it does little to draw on the social relevance that Facebook has long said sets its service apart.

Using retargeting, advertisers can place their messages in front of internet users based on what they have done on other websites. A user who researches a holiday or a car online, for instance, may find adverts for those things appearing on other, unconnected websites.

Using Facebook to see into the future

    Just Watched

    Using Facebook to see into the future

Using Facebook to see into the future 02:09
PLAY VIDEO
Do you have Facebook Graph Search yet?

    Just Watched

    Do you have Facebook Graph Search yet?

Do you have Facebook Graph Search yet? 02:49
PLAY VIDEO

Facebook first trialled retargeting in mid-2012, shortly after its tumultuous IPO led it to redouble efforts to boost its advertising revenue. At the time, it limited the ads to the right side of its pages.

On Tuesday, the company said it had begun a global test that put retargeted ads between the posts in its users' newsfeeds, considered the prime location on the social network. The news feed accounts for about 40 per cent of Facebook users' attention and adverts placed there are estimated to be eight times more effective than those on the right side of the page.

Putting retargeted ads inside the feed where users are engaging most directly with friends and family members could backfire, said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at Altimeter Group. Adverts that appeared to follow users around the web risked being seen as "creepy", an effect that might be accentuated when they appeared in such a personal place on the page, she added.

To soften the impact of advertising in the news feed, Facebook has previously used approaches that draw on social context. Using a format called "sponsored stories", for instance, advertisers have been able to buy space in a user's feed when one of their friends has visited the advertiser's page or engaged with it in some other way.

Showing retargeted ads without this type of social context risks making the social network feel increasingly "spammy", said Richard Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG Research.

Facebook said that the commercial messages, which will be delivered through the online exchange it set up last year, "will create more relevant ads for people". It added that the new type of advertising would not increase the overall number of ads that it places in users' newsfeeds.

      CNN Business

    • An Iraqi worker adjusts a control valve at the Daura oil refinery on November 5, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq and a grouping of U.S and European oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell PLC signed a $50 billion contract today to develop the West Qurna oilfield, two days after the Iraqi South Oil Company signed a technical service contract with Britain's BP and China's CNPC to develop the Rumaila oilfield. The Iraqi government is trying to attract foreign investment, especially in the oil sector, in hopes of reviving its war-torn economy. Iraq has the third largest oil reserve in the world but it is producing way below its potential. (Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images)

      Airstrikes, rebels seizing control of oil fields, plus a severe refugee crisis are a recipe for market panic. So why are Iraq oil prices stable?
    • A view of gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. The viral haemorrhagic fever epidemic raging in Guinea is caused by several viruses which have similar symptoms -- the deadliest and most feared of which is Ebola. AFP PHOTO / SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)

      The biggest Ebola outbreak in history is taking its toll in Western Africa, hitting some of West Africa's most vulnerable economies.
    • People enter a casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 18, 2009. Las Vegas is the most populus city in the US state of Nevada and internationally renowned major resort city for gambling, shopping, fine dining and entertainment. Las Vegas which bills itself as the �Entertainment Capital of the World� is famous for the number of casino resorts and associated entertainment. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      Macau has overtaken Switzerland in the wealth stakes, being named the world's fourth richest territory by the World Bank.
    • spc marketplace middle east ata atmar a_00010015.jpg

      Saudi Arabian Bateel brand is best known for its delectable dates but it now has more than a dozen cafes and a new bakery in the works.
    • Vantablack designed by Surrey NanoSystems absorbs 99.96% of all light. It however will not be the solution to the creating the world's ultimate slimming black dress! A dress made out of this material would render the curves and contours of the human body invisible and would leave the wearer looking like 'two dimensional cardboard cut-out.'

      A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material. It is so dark the human eye can't discern its shape and form.
    • Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
    • A picture taken on March 15, 2014 shows children playing at the sprawling desert Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan near the border with Syria which provides shelter to around 100,000 Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees in the seven-square-kilometre (2.8-square-mile) Zaatari camp in Jordan fear that President Bashar al-Assad's likely re-election this year will leave their dream of a return home as distant as ever. The brutal war in Syria between the regime and its foes shows no sign of abating and has killed at least 146,000 people since it erupted in mid-March 2011. And 2.5 million Syrians have fled abroad and another 6.5 million have been internally displaced. Jordan is home to more than 500,000 of the refugees.

      Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
    • SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 18: Queen Elizabeth II wears 3 D glasses to watch a display and pilot a JCB digger, during a visit to the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research centre, on November 18, 2010 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by John Giles - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

      At the last football World Cup, it was all about 3D. This time around, it's nothing less than 4K.
    • An Iraqi worker adjusts a control valve at the Daura oil refinery on November 5, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq and a grouping of U.S and European oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell PLC signed a $50 billion contract today to develop the West Qurna oilfield, two days after the Iraqi South Oil Company signed a technical service contract with Britain's BP and China's CNPC to develop the Rumaila oilfield. The Iraqi government is trying to attract foreign investment, especially in the oil sector, in hopes of reviving its war-torn economy. Iraq has the third largest oil reserve in the world but it is producing way below its potential. (Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images)

      Iraq produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. But the current crisis is putting all this in danger.
    • Valves of gas pipe-line are seen in the gas station not far from Kiev on March 4, 2014. The European Union will help Ukraine pay the $2.0 billion it owes to Russian gas giant Gazprom, a top official said Tuesday, as part of an aid package reportedly worth more than one billion euros. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREY SINITSIN (Photo credit should read ANDREY SINITSIN/AFP/Getty Images)

      The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.