Facebook explains advertising policies to its users but industry wants more

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Facebook has formally outlined is advertising policies to its users but the industry feels the internet giant is offloading responsibility instead of stepping up.

In a blog post, Rob Goldman, vice-president of Facebook's ad products, assured users that the platform's ad products are built to prioritise people. 

"Our auction system, which determines which ads get shown to you, prioritises what’s most relevant to you, rather than how much money Facebook will make from any given ad," Goldman wrote.

The post also assured users that Facebook will not sell their data and points users to controls they can use to tailor the ads they see. 

Another promise made in the post is that ads will be transparent. "We're building an ads transparency feature that will let you visit any Facebook Page and see the ads that advertiser is running, whether or not those ads are being shown to you," Goldman wrote. 

In the light of the investigation into Russian-funded ads, Facebook has tightened its advertising policies. 

"We review many ads proactively using automated and manual tools, and reactively when people hide, block, or mark ads as offensive. When we review an ad, we look at its content, targeting, landing page and the identity of the advertiser," the post said but added that Facebook may not always get this right. 

The post appears aimed at addressing a number of concerns raised about advertising on social media recently, Phil Smith, director general of ISBA observed. 

Besides the controversy over political advertising on the platform, Facebook has also come under fire for "intrusive ad tracking based on conversations on the social network that Facebook was alleged to be ‘listening in’ on. Facebook has denied this," Smith added. 

That Facebook feels a need to release a post like this is not surprising, Ruth Zohrer, head of connections planning and marketing technology for Mindshare UK noted.

"What is surprising is that his riposte, rather than address the media or the government (as the loudest voices in this matter), or agencies and brands (some of which have reacted to these stories openly), the blog is directed at end users of the platform. And rightfully so, since these stories could become a reputational risk, and without people, Facebook has little to no business," Zohrer said.

While it is important that Facebook is explaining how advertising works on the site to its users, there doesn't appear to be any real updates planned, Smith said. "We would like to see Facebook doing much more in this area."

He added that the post is unlikely to shift existing opinions about advertising on the platform. 

It is telling, Zohrer said, that the post is focused on empowering users to take action, leaving them with the onus. The post, she continues, acknowledges that Facebook does not have the ability to police and manage the content that is produced and shared in its different environments, and requires a concerted effort from end users to brands to their agencies and beyond.

"Does that address the demands asked of Facebook to take greater responsibility for the content on their platform? Unlikely," she said. 

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