Facebook’s Atlas May Compete with Google; Raise Privacy Concerns

When Facebook purchased the Atlas Advertiser Suite from Microsoft last year, it did so with the stated objective of providing advertisers more insight into their digital marketing campaigns both on & off of the social network. Attribution modeling has become a major TOC among agencies and advertisers alike; and Facebook, with their 1.3 billion users, was in a unique position to provide some transparency, in the hopes of raising their own ad revenue.

Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is planning on expanding the ability of Atlas– and taking their data-targeting capabilities formally only good within Facebook itself to the larger web. In brief, soon advertisers will be able to target Facebook user IDs anywhere that programmatic advertising is bought and sold.


None of this is particularly surprising, as the social network previously unveiled “FAN”— though, until now, there hasn’t been much made of the new advertising network among advertisers.

Since this news hasn’t officially been announced yet, let’s look at what this could mean for advertisers, Google, and for privacy advocates as well.

Facebook Atlas, For Advertisers

Facebook bringing user IDs into demand-side platform space offers a unique opportunity for advertisers to utilize self-indentified data to target consumers.

While most data providers (BlueKai, Datalogix, etc) make inferences to put Internet users into data segments, and are only able to make these inferences based on the placement of a cookie, modern-day targeting has some limitations. First, it may or may not be entirely accurate, as individuals’ browsing habits may not necessarily be typical of their age/demographic/psychographic qualities. Also, many families, in particular, share computers between several members of the household; each with their own unique browsing habits and demographic makeup.

With Facebook IDs, however, users are voluntarily submitting (mostly) authentic information, just by using the social network on a regular basis. And, unlike with other data providers, Facebook IDs do not rely on cookies; meaning, wherever a user has logged-in to Facebook, their ID goes with them. This includes mobile; a potential major focus for future Atlas advertisers, as the shift from desktop to mobile Internet activity grows.

Atlas vs. Google

While Facebook currently ranks as #2 behind Google in digital ad spend, it is a distant #2– according to eMarketer projections, a disparity of 31% to 7.7% in 2014. However, the introduction of Atlas adds a potential major boost to Facebook ad revenues, as advertisers will not only have the opportunity to utilize FB data outside of the social network, but finally be able to accomplish cross-platform targeting with a large degree of accuracy.  

Google’s GDN has long provided much better targeting options– contextual, keyword-based, and remarketing –than many ad nets; and, thus, has maintained a major portion of the ad spend. But, can Facebook cut into Google’s share of the pie?

Absolutely. Especially if Facebook provides the opportunity, like Google does by selling inventory through AdX, to purchase its data through already-established DSPs, such as Turn, MediaMath, or The Trade Desk. If Atlas is only available through the Atlas platform, however, that may be a limiting factor for some agencies to opt to take advantage of it, as it would require separate resources to be dedicated to yet another advertising suite.

It is worth noting that Google itself has been privately working on “cookieless” tracking options, though no solutions have been provided to advertisers as of yet.

Privacy Advocates

Facebook is no stranger to privacy concerns, and the ability for advertisers to select social data to target (even if those IDs are anonymized, as WordStream’s Larry Kim points out) is sure to raise a stink– eventually. Privacy concerns tend to take a little time to reach the huddled masses; and, by then, there’s certain to be some email or pop-up on Facebook to give people the chance to opt-out.

What do you think of the early news of Facebook plans for Atlas? Will you be on board early to test some budget with the company?

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