Facebook to sell advertising based on users’ apps

A report in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal says that, “The social network is tracking the apps that people use through its popular Facebook Connect feature,” and then plans to target ads based on that behavior. “Facebook’s new mobile ads for apps are potentially highly lucrative,” says the WSJ. It “can charge significantly more for an app installation than it can for the traditional cost of every one thousand people who have viewed an ad.”

Both Apple and Google also track their users’ apps. Google does not currently target ads based on that data, while Apple warns its users in its privacy policy that it can do so. Facebook is, however, well placed to provide targeted advertising – it knows exactly what apps are in use by its users while competitive ad networks do not necessarily know what apps are installed on a mobile device. 

This is raising privacy concerns with privacy advocates. Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's project on consumer privacy, told the WSJ that ideally Facebook should not track its users’ activity, but “if they are going to do it, they should be transparent about it.” 

“A Facebook spokesman declined comment on privacy issues,” comments the WSJ.

This is the second advertising/privacy concern about Facebook since it went public. Last month the social network quietly changed its users’ displayed email addresses to @facebook.com. While some commentators suggested that it was an attempt to make itself indispensable to its users, others point out that gaining control over emails would allow the same sort of targeted advertising currently dominated by Google.

Facebook’s IPO last month did not live up to expectations. At the time, Facebook’s shares were offered at $38 but are currently trading on Nasdaq at just under $32. Pressure from investors to monetize its assets, which are its users, their data and their behavior, can only increase.

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