In early May of this year, documents were leaked to the media claiming that Facebook could easily detect when teens were feeling low or had poor self-image, prompting a huge hullabaloo about the safety of social media networks and manipulation of users by the social media giant.
The reality of what’s going on behind the scenes at Facebook is much different than the Skynet future that many are currently imagining, however.
The Cogs and Gears of Facebook’s Algorithm Machines
When the accusation that Facebook could understand, and, thus, manipulate emotions came down, a former Facebook employee wrote a long piece for The Guardian in which he alleges that it would absolutely be conceivable, given his experiences in 2012. The problem with all this finger-pointing and allusion is that Facebook, all on its own, had already announced this fact quite proudly when it debuted its DeepText system in June 2016.
The entire goal of DeepText is to better understand sentences in context, using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) technique called Machine Learning. In essence, the software is more than a simple program, it’s a system of systems that consume information and thus grow their own ability to do some type of work. In this case, that was understanding human languages, so if a teen was feeling depressed, it would absolutely realize this if the software was working properly.
So, the paranoia was quite unfounded because we already knew this was possible, or we should have. The question then becomes: Just how much information is safe to share, or is it safe at all in this modern era?
Personalized and Targeted Advertisements
The results were surprisingly positive, given how much people like to complain that Facebook is manipulating them with these same tools. Of survey respondents, 71 percent preferred to see ads tailored to them and a full 44 percent were even willing to provide brands with more information about themselves in order to get more relevant messages.
Clearly the public has spoken, or a public, at least. Despite some cries of privacy invasion (you can target ads incredibly specifically, but no identifying information is handled by a human marketer), the world we live in is still pretty concerned with data security. Companies like Facebook and Google, who literally survive because of data, have no interest in risking their status by compromising their relationships with users.
Why an Australian bank was interested in knowing when teens were depressed may be more telling about the client than the marketing platform, but that’s a different story for a different day. Despite a minority push-back against targeted ads, they’ve been incredibly well-received and exceptionally effective, increasing the chances a customer will click-through by double.
How Not to Personalize Content
Those potential customers that love AI-personalized advertisements do have their line in the sand, however.
They want to be chummy, make no mistake, but they also want to keep it professional. According to Adlucent’s study, only 29 percent are willing to engage with ads that use their names, the creep-out factor becomes far too high at that point. And although many would provide details like their address, only eight percent would tell marketers about major life events like a birth or a wedding.
So, even though segmenting your marketing and sending it only to a specific audience will get you clicks, if you tell the audience that’s what you’re doing, they start to feel vulnerable. The magic of personalization gives way to the fear of unprotected data in a wide world of people who are actively seeking that sort of thing. That’s not what’s happening, in fact some very strong encryption is in place to protect private data, both because news of an information leak would be bad for business and for liability purposes at Facebook, but nonetheless for less savvy Internet users, the fear is real.
No matter what your personal feelings are on personalized or targeted marketing, the truth is that it’s effective. Customers want to see relevant advertisements to help them make buying decisions or give them opportunities to discover items they may not even be aware of yet. It’s the future of online marketing. And rightfully so, since properly targeted advertisements can be an enormous cost-cutter for businesses everywhere.