Social Advertising vs Data Privacy: Can there be a Balance?

Dana Davis

By: Dana Davis

Account Strategy Manager


The argument over whether or not social advertising is effective is long over, and the conversation has since shifted to data sharing and privacy intrusion.

The conversation blew up in 2015 when Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, but Facebook is far from the only platform finding themselves walking a fine line between effective marketing and privacy intrusion. LinkedIn and Snapchat experienced breaches of their own.

Facebook does, however, seem to hold the most responsibility over consumer data protection and paved the way for all social media platforms to begin finding and implementing solutions that will restore user confidence without compromising the tools that advertisers depend on.

Privacy Anxiety vs. Platform Growth

Ultimately, while concern over the use of data by social platforms is growing, so are social platform user bases.

Chart of social media use

So where is the disconnect?

Pew Research Center studies have found increasing anxiety over how our data is collected, shared, and secured, but there’s also evidence of adaptation that users are starting to express in their behaviors online as a collective response to that anxiety.

Despite the risk, social platforms are still proving their value to users, who are increasingly aware of advertising tactics and understanding of the implications of data exchange.

As the negative aspects of social media have made it into the mainstream consciousness, so are the positive and valuable ways it can be used.

Social media has profoundly changed the way we build connections with family, friends and strangers. It has empowered people to seek out people, information, solutions, etc. that they’re looking for without being bound to geographical limitations.

Social media has profoundly changed the way we build connections with family, friends and strangers.

The speed at which knowledge and breaking news is shared across the world is faster than it’s ever been. Social media has been an advantage in emergency situations/natural disasters as well as initiating global movement and impact in support of international philanthropic causes.

And the most controversial value social media provides is that it has built a world in which our experiences can be personally tailored. Social media has provided a means for users to see what matters most to them first, and for brands to find audiences that are relevant, so they’re only sharing their products and services with the people who are most likely to be genuinely interested.

Despite the debate over privacy intrusion, “63% of Millennials and 58% of GenX consumers are more than happy to share their data with companies to get personalized offers and information.”

In the end, it is not an all or nothing matter because so much of our lives are tied into these platforms. Social Media will change, and we will change with it — we will all just have to wait and see how things play out.

Privacy Solutions

Social media platforms are working hard to find solutions that will protect user privacy and restore user confidence while still allowing advertisers to implement customized targeting strategies.

We’re going to be taking a closer look at the key players over the course of the next few months as more policy changes roll out, so for now we’ll start where it all began: Facebook.

Facebook 3rd Party Deprecation

Notebook work with statistics on sofa business
Photo by Lukas Blazek / Unsplash

By October 2018, Facebook had removed all 3rd party audiences from vendors like Acxiom, Oracle Data Cloud (Datalogix), Epsilon and Experian after increasing scrutiny and regulatory pressure. Both the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the General Data Protection Regulation played a large role in affecting their removal.

This change included not only private data, but public categories such as behavioral targeting parameters like purchasing and in-market audiences, and other highly-used segments like household incomes.

Just about half of Facebook’s 1,200 targeting criteria came from third-party data sources, so this change had a massive effect on advertisers’ targeting strategies.

Ultimately, this shift meant advertisers would have to build partnerships with each data provider and get explicit permissions for each segment they wanted to use - a much more complicated process than the simple drop-down it was before. In addition, some categories were made completely unavailable.


Facebook HEC Policies

Shooting in my office
Photo by Tierra Mallorca / Unsplash

As of July 2019, Facebook adjusted the way in which they manage housing, employment, and credit ads as they continue to focus on ways to protect users from unlawful discrimination. Any qualifying ads must be selected as a “Special Ad Category” campaign, which has its own conditions on targeting.

H.E.C. ads now have a limited set of audience selection tools available: age, gender, zip code, HHI, and multicultural affinity targeting will be unavailable. Advertisers will only be able to choose from a much smaller set of targeting options; any detailed targeting segments describing or appearing to relate to protected classes will be unavailable.

Moving forward, it will be important for advertisers to fully understand the implications of HEC and how Special Ad Categories function.


The “Off-Facebook Activity” Tool

Facebook Off Activity Tool
Facebook's delete advertising data option can be found in the settings menu. Credit Facebook.

Facebook is starting to roll out a new feature that will allow users to see which advertisers have their data and to adjust setting to prevent them from using that data to target their ads.

In the past, this feature was called the “clear history” tool, which misled users into thinking they could remove all their data on the social platforms. In reality, it only pertains to the data that Facebook stores about users’ activities off Facebook. The data that advertisers and developers collect in order to target their ads.

The implications of this feature could potentially reduce the size of advertisers’ custom audiences built from the pixel, but given how these rollouts have happened in the past, people are concerned about privacy, but not motivated enough to dig into Facebook’s settings to find the feature.

“While 43% of consumers are aware they can change their settings on social, only 29% have actually done it.”

This new product is rolling out in phases, and is currently only available in Ireland, Spain and South Korea.

In Conclusion

We’re confident in the progress being made, but this game could play out any which way at this point. The debate is far from over, but the steps our partner platforms are taking to raise awareness among their user bases and actively take a more transparent approach is reason enough to believe that there’s a world where effective marketing and data privacy can cohabitate.




Join the newsletter to receive the
latest updates in your inbox.

Want to learn more about Unified? Learn More