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Nuts & Bolts

June 12, 2014

Facebook making big changes to its advertisements

Facebook is making significant changes to the advertisements on its network, and said Thursday that it will give users more control over which ads they see on its network. The move comes as the company is also expanding its advertising program to include information that it pulls from sites users visit outside of its own network. Users will begin seeing notifications on their accounts about the changes starting Thursday, the company said in a blog post explaining the changes.

"Today, we learn about your interests primarily from the things you do on Facebook, such as Pages you like," the company said in an official blog post. "Starting soon in the US, we will also include information from some of the websites and apps you use."

Facebook does not currently show ads based on what users look at or buy outside of its own network — though it does partner with some ad networks that do. This change means that Facebook's advertising system more closely mirrors those of its competitors, such as Google. That change is significant, if not particularly surprising as the 10-year-old service looks for ways to pull in more regular revenue.

Perhaps looking to tamp down anxiety that Facebook will have access to users' off-site lives, the company is also releasing a new tool that gives users clear information about why they are seeing a particular ad. Ads on Facebook can now be more plugged in to the users' outside lives, drawing information from other pages they've visited or products they've viewed on other sites.

For example, you may see an advertisement on Facebook for a local winery and want to know why Facebook showed you that ad. Once the changes take effect, you'll be able to choose the "Why am I seeing this?" option from a drop-down menu on each individual ad. That, in turn, will take you to a page explaining why you were shown that ad. It may be because the business wanted to show the ad to locals between the ages of 21 and 60. Or the reason may be as simple as the fact that you had previously "liked" the business page of another local winery.

That page will also let you decide to remove that particular subject from your advertising profile. That means that "liking" a friend's personal fitness business page_ just to be nice — doesn't condemn you to a lifetime of ads for weight-loss pills and fad diets. Users can also use the new option to get a comprehensive look at all the keywords that make up your ad profile and customize them as you see fit. You are the only one who will see that overall profile.

Rob Sherman, a public policy manager at the social network, said that the changes will roll out gradually across the site, starting with U.S. users. Individuals will likely see the changes take effect around a month after they read the notification, unless they explicitly tell Facebook that they don't want to participate.

Sherman said that Facebook sent out several surveys and ran focus groups to figure out how best to implement these changes and present it in a digestible way to its users. He also said that the company believes that a system that shows users ads that know more about them helps advertisers as well as Facebook. But he also said that Facebook has heard loud and clear that users want more transparency and control when it comes to ads.

"We think it will be a net improvement," he said. "We also know that some people don't want it."

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