Facebook advertising can target a specific person: study

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Research undertaken by scientists at Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) and Graz University of Technology (Austria) shows that a Facebook ad campaign can target a specific person, with the campaign being based only on four unique interests awarded. to the user through the social network.

Personalization of online advertising based on our search history and preferences is not a new phenomenon, as it has been developing for many years. However, this new study, presented at an international scientific conference (ACM Internet Measurement Conference), highlights the fact that advertisements can be personalized and sent to a specific person through the Facebook advertising platform using only the interests of the user. ‘user.

This reveals a potential privacy issue, according to the team of researchers, consisting of José González-Cabañas, Ángel Cuevas, Rubén Cuevas, Juan López-Fernández and David García. “It allows the creation of hyper-personalized advertisements that can have a greater effect on the user who receives them,” explains Ángel Cuevas, from UC3M’s telematics engineering department.

This problem exposes users to new risks that arise from the combination of interests. There are two types of data in this context: on the one hand, data directly revealing the identity of an individual (such as his identification number, telephone number or e-mail address), which requires the consent of the individual for companies to use them, and on the other hand, data that cannot be attributed to a particular user, such as their interests, gender or age. “What if we could identify someone using Facebook without their permission just by combining their interests? Ask the researchers.

From a theoretical standpoint, these scientists have shown that very little information about users, only four rare and specific interests, makes them unique in a database of billions of users. Previous studies have pointed this out, however, they worked with a much smaller user database of around one million users. This ability to segment users in a very specific way is called “nanotargeting” by researchers and in concrete terms, it has been shown that this can be done on Facebook at almost zero cost. In other words, reaching a particular user among the 2,800 million active profiles on the social network is possible.

To do this, the researchers carried out an experiment: they created 21 advertising campaigns intended to reach three of the authors of this work. “On the one hand, we are the advertiser on Facebook and, on the other hand, the ad is aimed at all of us. We built a model to see how many interests we would need to achieve a specific person with a high probability, and then we validated it using campaigns, ”explains another UC3M researcher who wrote this book, José González Cabañas. “By combining five random interests, the ad did not reach the chosen user. However, the probability of success increased as the number of interests increased to 7, 9, etc. We have seen that in actual experience, 20 and 22 interests guaranteed success. However, only four interests are required, if they are very rare and specific interests. “

From a marketing standpoint, this option could be extremely useful for businesses that want to create hyper-personalized campaigns for their clients. However, from a user protection perspective, “what we’re really asking ad platforms to do is take action that prevents nanotargeting from happening. In this sense, the advertising platform should, in accordance with the parameters set by the advertiser and the estimates provided by the platform, ensure that the advertisement can reach a group of at least 1000 users, for example, in order to protect privacy and avoid nanotargeting, ”concludes Ángel Cuevas.


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More information:
José González-Cabañas et al, Unique on Facebook, Proceedings of the 21st ACM Internet Measurement Conference (2021). DOI: 10.1145 / 3487552.3487861

Provided by Carlos III University of Madrid


Quote: Facebook ad can target a specific person: Study (2021, December 2) retrieved December 2, 2021 from https://techxplore.com/news/2021-12-facebook-advertising-specific-person.html

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