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Facebook booting data brokers, simplifying privacy tools to bolster user confidence

Seeking to reassure users on privacy following Cambridge Analytica and the subsequent fallout, Facebook has taken two related steps. The company is simplifying its famously confusing privacy controls and ending its third party “Partner Categories” program, which allowed the importation of third party “offline” data for targeting.

Facebook issued a short statement about the end of Partner Categories:

 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. 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.

Partner Categories was a program that launched in 2012 to allow advertisers to use third party data on offline attributes and behaviors (e.g., purchases, income) and import them into Facebook campaigns. The participating providers included Acxiom, Epsilon, Experian Marketing Services, Oracle Data Cloud (Datalogix) and Quantium. They aggregate data from multiple public and private sources (e.g., retail transaction histories).

An example use case might be: people who have a specific income level, car purchase history and are currently in the market for a new auto lease. The combination of Facebook audience data and third party data has been very effective for many marketers. But there is also potential for abuse.

It remains to be seen how the move will impact the data brokers and Facebook advertisers. We’ll have a follow-up discussion of this.

The company has also made its privacy and security settings easier to find and use, with new “privacy shortcuts.” Among the changes the company introduced are the following:

  • Instead of having settings spread across nearly 20 different screens, they’re now accessible from a single place. We’ve also cleaned up outdated settings so it’s clear what information can and can’t be shared with apps.
  • The new Privacy Shortcuts is a menu where you can control your data in just a few taps, with clearer explanations of how our controls work.
  • [W]e’re introducing Access Your Information – a secure way for people to access and manage their information, such as posts, reactions, comments, and things you’ve searched for. You can go here to delete anything from your timeline or profile that you no longer want on Facebook.

These moves are welcome and probably overdue. It’s not clear how many users Facebook will ultimately lose from the data scandal, but there is evidence that the negative coverage has caused some erosion in user trust.

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