Facebook aims to match ads to users
Move may revive privacy concerns
NEW YORK - The online hangout Facebook plans to help companies target their advertisements on the site based on what site users and their friends buy and do on the Internet.
As websites look to boost advertising revenue by offering to target ads to their users' hobbies, interests, and behavior, Facebook's move could change the tone of the site and revive privacy complaints it faced last year.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who founded the company three years ago, yesterday said that marketers must respond to the changing nature of communication, driven in part by social-networking sites like his.
"Pushing your message out to people is no longer good enough," Zuckerberg told about 200 advertising industry executives. "You have to get your message out to the conversations."
Facebook will now allow companies to build profile pages similar to the ones users around the world now have on the site.
Companies also can now embed coding that Facebook calls Beacon on outside sites such as eBay Inc., enabling Facebook users who list an item for auction, for example, to generate alerts for their Facebook friends, who may then check out the item next time they log on.
Users can now send alerts to friends about their reviews of restaurants, what band they enjoyed, and what books or DVDs they bought online.
And advertisers can have their pitches appear next to those alerts.
"People influence people," Zuckerberg said. "Nothing influences a person more than a recommendation from a trusted friend."
The new program also enables advertisers to fine-tune their audiences - having their pitches appear only to women under 30 who attended New York University and work at Goldman Sachs, for instance.
Self-service tools let advertisers immediately see how many users they will reach as they change their criteria.
Social-networking sites like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace have been trying to find the best way to profit from the trove of personal data their users put on profile pages.
On Monday, MySpace announced an expansion of its targeting program to include more categories and more advertisers.
Privacy advocates say the key to user acceptance will be how Facebook notifies its users and what controls it offers.
Zuckerberg offered few details, other than to say no personally identifiable data would be shared with advertisers.
Facebook has long prided itself on privacy, but the walls have gradually lowered as the site relaxed eligibility requirements and recently started letting nonusers search for members' personal profile pages at Facebook and through search engines like Google.
A feature allowing users to more easily track changes their friends make to profiles backfired when many users denounced it as stalking and threatened protests and boycotts. Facebook had to quickly apologize and agree to let users turn off the feature so that others can't easily see what they do.
Facebook has grown rapidly since last year, when the site opened membership to all Internet users.