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8/15/2014
12:51 PM
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Facebook Will Track Shopping Habits

Facebook plans to track your actions between devices and share with advertisers when an ad leads to a purchase. Here's why one expert says you shouldn't worry.

Eavesdropping On A New Level
Eavesdropping On A New Level
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

More than 60% of adults in the US use at least two devices every day, and more than 40% start an activity on one device and finish it on another, according to a study commissioned by Facebook with market research agency GfK.

Facebook plans to capitalize on the multi-device trend, announcing this week that it will track users' actions between devices and share with advertisers when an ad or promotion leads to a purchase. Facebook can track and link activity on various devices since users must log in first to use the service.

"Imagine seeing an ad for a product on your mobile phone while in line at the bank. Do you immediately make a purchase on your phone? Probably not," Facebook said in the announcement. "But perhaps you go back to your office later that day and buy on your desktop computer."

[Know your options. Read Facebook Ads: Users Offered More Control.]

While these new insights on your shopping habits will give marketers valuable information to make more informed advertising decisions, it does not pose any threat to users' privacy, said Rebecca Lieb, analyst at Altimeter Group. The information Facebook shares is neither personal nor personally identifiable, she explained.

"Facebook may share with an advertiser that I'm a middle-aged woman living in New York City, for example, but I'm still a needle in a haystack. It's not going to say, 'My name is Rebecca Lieb and this is my phone number' -- just that a person saw an ad on an iPhone and made a purchase on a desktop," Lieb said.

Measuring users' activity across devices gives marketers insight into how and where their ad campaigns are performing, Facebook said. The social network analyzed recent campaigns and found that of the people who showed interest in a mobile Facebook ad in the US, nearly one-third converted on desktop within 28 days. Facebook also found that people who showed interest in a mobile ad before converting were more likely to do so on a different device as time passed.  

Facebook is the first company to offer this type of information to marketers, which gives the social network a leg up on advertising behemoths like Google, according to Lieb. "This data will help marketers spend better and more thoughtfully and increase their confidence in spending on Facebook because other platforms aren't yet offering this service," she said.

Marketers can find the new cross-device conversions for campaigns within your Facebook Ad Reports. Click Edit Columns and select Cross-Device on the left-hand menu to view it.

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Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior ... View Full Bio

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PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
8/22/2014 | 10:09:34 AM
Re: Shopping
not only is facebook tracking you on their website.  But they are hijaching user accounts for their marketing campaigns.  I guess now we can't even trust what our friends liked on facebook.
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
8/21/2014 | 9:41:19 PM
Re: Shopping
@Pedro, Those are 2 valid points. I also suppose that if they are going to tell us that they will be doing this, it's not an invasion of privacy. We would be agreeing to it by continuing with our shopping habits on Facebook.
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
8/21/2014 | 9:37:24 PM
Re: Shopping
@Michael Endler, I hope I won't get flooded with more advertisement emails, as a result of Facebook tracking my shopping habits.
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
8/21/2014 | 9:30:55 PM
Re: Shopping
If I don't want my husband tracking my shopping, what makes Facebook think I wouldn't mind them tracking my shopping habits?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
8/21/2014 | 7:09:21 PM
Re: Shopping
Agreed, I'd find that unsettling too. Ewww, indeed!
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
8/21/2014 | 7:05:28 PM
Re: Shopping
@Michael - I'm with you on this - I'm not alarmed, nor will I change any of my browsing/shopping habits because of it.

The one thing that did alarm me is how, just the other day, Facebook posted that my friend "Likes" Facebook.  Said friend has been dead for 3 years.  

Ewwww.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
8/21/2014 | 5:34:40 PM
Re: Shopping
I agree. I think this particular project is pretty benign, as far as users are concerned. As described, it's better to think of it as sociological data, or like a really granular census of our retail habits, rather than Facebook's interest in you as an individual. I don't really worry about that sort of thing. I'll worry when my car can talk to my insurance company, or when my fork tells my health insurer if I'm eating what I'm supposed to.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
8/21/2014 | 5:21:02 PM
Old ideas change when everything can be tracked
In the abstract, what Facebook is observing isn't that surprising. Consider this:

The social network analyzed recent campaigns and found that of the people who showed interest in a mobile Facebook ad in the US, nearly one-third converted on desktop within 28 days. Facebook also found that people who showed interest in a mobile ad before converting were more likely to do so on a different device as time passed. 

To me, this is the digital equivalent of the person who liked a coat while window shopping, returned to check it out a few more times, maybe tried it on "for fun" one or twice, and finally, on the third or fourth visit, made the purchase. The behavior isn't new or surprising, but the context is wildly different, and so are the implications.

There's more planning involved in repeatedly checking out a desired item at the store; with a web browser, you have less logistical inconvenience to overcome, and less time to reconsider an impulse purchase (i.e. I doubt that the real world behavior I described results in brick and mortar merchants with a ~33% purchase rate per 28-day cycle, but I'm not surprised that online retailers manage this rate of success).

The other huge contextual difference, as others have pointed out, is that electronic behavior can be tracked much more easily than physical movement. A store salesclerk might become aware of your recurrent interest if you keep going back to admire the theoretical coat-- but a service that can track your browsing will definitely become aware of repeated visits to the coat's Amazon page.

Then again, before long, even of our behavior in physical stores might be mined for data. Your smartphone (or smartwatch, or connected eyewear, or whatever) will know when you're in proximity to stores, and when you enter them. It will be able to report to a "beacon" (or whatever they end up being generically called) where you linger, what objects are nearby, how often you return to certain locations, and, finally, when you buy. I think that's a natural extrapolation of some of the stuff Cisco and Apple have already talked about, for example, and an example of the way data will generate targeted ads, hopefully without feeling too much like Minority Report. That kind of service will (or at least should) require that users opt in for personalized ads, which is a bit different than the anonymized data described in this article. Still, I don't doubt that anonymized location data will be used similarly.

PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2014 | 11:22:47 AM
Re: Shopping
You are right.  If you are willingly giving your information to Facebook it can't be call invasion of privacy.  I think Amazon has a better chance because they know what you purchased and where you clicked.  Facebook can't determine whether you went to your desktop to purchase that item. 

 

 
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
8/18/2014 | 3:20:46 PM
Re: Shopping
Altimeter's Rebecca Lieb wasn't sure this would significantly spike Facebook's revenue, but it could have a trickle-down effect. The more information marketers have about their campaigns, the better they're able to spend their money and achieve better results. This will boost their spending confidence.
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