Thumbs up on tracking everyone.

Thumbs up on tracking everyone, everywhere.

Traditionally, Atlas refers to a collection of maps, typically of the earth. But this concept is about to assume a much creepier meaning. It is now associated to a ‘people-based marketing’ model, meaning the tracking and mapping of consumer’s behaviours both online and offline, as they move across content, websites and apps with different devices.

I am referring to the new advertising platform called Atlas, recently announced by Facebook. The platform is an improved version of Atlas Advertiser Suite model, purchased from Microsoft in 2013, and is deemed to be more implacable than cookies technology, which it aims to eventually replace.

Currently, marketers usually target and track the performance of online advertisements through cookies. However, cookies have been failing the marketing industry due to the very limited outcomes they allow. Indeed, they are less and less reliable and increasingly ineffective due to browser settings and plug-ins which can block them. Moreover, they are not as effective on smart phones and tablets, the main tools to access internet nowadays, as on computer’s desktops. In addition, they do not distinguish among users and devices.

As a result, advertising companies, contrarily to their best interests, are unable to figure which advertisements are worthy and efficient.

Facebook, dressing a red cape over its blue clinging suit, proposes to solve these issues with Atlas.

How?

Well, taking advantage of the huge amount of data it collects about its members. After all, information as where people live or go, websites they visit, their preferences, interests and their interactions is highly valuable for marketing purposes. Indeed it enables marketing companies to target its advertisements more efficiently according to contextual and behavioural profiling.

But how?

While being logged in a Facebook account, each user has one unique identifier which distinguishes him or her from all the others. It is like a fingerprint.

Atlas will combine cookies with the unique Facebook individual identification to track users’ exposure to advertising across the web, linking their personal information to their browsing activity.

In this context, marketers and advertisers will be able to match the list of individuals who they know have bought their product, through purchasing details, and the list of advertisements that individuals have seen online.

As a result, they will be able to evaluate to what extent their targeted advertisements on Facebook influence its members’ purchases and to assess which ones are successful.

Getting a cold feeling of discomfort regarding your privacy?

Do.

While these might be good news for advertisers and marketers in general, users already worrying about their privacy and personal data will certainly find room for some additional concern.

Indeed, even if many other Internet companies, as Google and Yahoo, collect data on individuals based on their web browsing and other online activities and use it to target ads, Facebook raises the stake to a whole new level.

To start with, it distastefully shares data collected within social networking with third parties, advertisers and marketers. So, information provided by its members in a certain context will be used in another context.

In addition, while combining cookies with the Facebook ID, Atlas will enable to track online activities across devices of logged in users and to assess their reaction to advertising campaigns both across Facebook and third-parties websites and apps, both on desktop and mobile devices.

Therefore, Atlas applies a user’s Facebook identity beyond Facebook’s walls, resulting in exposing users who are logged in across devices to a new persistent tracking mechanism which I can’t help but picture as a constant and undesirable online stalker.

As, having purchased ad campaigns through Atlas, advertisers can choose whether or not to include it on Facebook, its primary intention is consequently to demonstrate that advertisements placed in its website do work, i.e., that online social behaviour and search habits of its members can be a faithful indicator of consumer interest and purchase intent. The aim is to attract advertisers and marketer’s interest in order to place ads on its platform, with the argument that ads bought through Atlas will be more effective than other platforms, because they will use data collected through Facebook.

This will enable Facebook to establish a demand-side platform, where marketers will be able to buy ads which target Facebook’s members as they move across the Web, and even target users through real-time bidding. Once a user has logged into Facebook on a device, Atlas will be able find that user and present personalized ads.

In this context, the core privacy concern is whether data can be utilized while maintaining users’ privacy rights. Facebook pledges that the whole process will be anonymous and that is not going to disclose personal information such as user’s names or locations to advertisers. It is said that marketers and advertisers won’t be able to access other details than those they already know. Furthermore, marketers won’t be able to take Atlas’s cross-device tracking information out of the Facebook system.

Nonetheless, it conveniently failed to acknowledge that this kind of marketing is targeted to us as identified individuals, despite no revelation of real names is involved.

Indeed, it belongs to an emerging strategy known as ‘onboarding’, which aims to link our offline life to our online activity. Instead of users’ actual names, Atlas targeting segments refer to age, gender and demographics and might eventually include political affiliations, credit card use and relationship status.

So, Facebook’s policy regarding real names might not be as well intended as it was firstly presented. As users are voluntarily submitting authentic information, just by using the social network on a regular basis, knowing its users’ real identities allows the building of detailed profiles of people.

It is already known that Facebook’s partners include Omnicom, Instagram and, possibly, Twitter.

Some consider that this aims to take down Google from its dominant position regarding online-display advertisements, taking advantage of the fact that Google’s targeting is primarily based on cookies, which don’t work on mobile phones and get confused across users and devices. Despite Facebook’s denials, Atlas will allow Facebook to build an advertisement network that would, like Google’s AdSense, extend its ads across the Web.

I don’t know one single person – except for my little cousin, who thrives with pub time on TV – that appreciates to have every webpage opened filled with ads. And it becomes worse when they are irrelevant!

Perhaps Atlas is just a way of ensuring that the advertisements we see are of more interest to users. Hopefully, it doesn’t mean that we will have to face a bigger amount of ads.

Anyway, Facebook’s members can’t opt out of Facebook’s data capture mechanisms entirely, although they will be able to view and change the types of ads they are presented with through the Ad Preferences portal.

But while some may argue that Atlas is just a new tool to make ads more relevant to users, one shouldn’t ignore that users are being made more relevant to advertisers. We are the product. Perhaps for those who need to socialize online, Ello is not such a bad option after all…