European Commission Investigating Facebook’s Advertising Platform [OP-ED]

Posted Nov 28, 2011

The European Commission is starting an investigation about the way that Facebook gathers information from users such as political opinions and religious beliefs and sends it to advertisers. Supposedly a new European Commission Directive will be introduced in January and will ban targeted advertising unless users specifically allow it. This seems unreasonable to me because targeted advertising seems to be the way that every Internet company makes their money.

Even though Facebook stores this information on computers in the USA, the company could face legal action or a massive fine if they do not comply with the new legislation. Currently Facebook helps advertising companies focus campaigns based on the profiles of users. The campaign also focuses on the “likes” that Facebook users select and content that is inputted on their “walls.”

“I call on service providers ? especially social media sites ? to be more transparent about how they operate. Users must know what data is collected and further processed (and) for what purposes,” stated European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding. “Consumers in Europe should see their data strongly protected, regardless of the EU country they live in and regardless of the country in which companies which process their personal data are established.”

Facebook has about 800 million users. Before signing up, each Facebook user has to approve of a 4,000 word contract that licenses them to use their data any way that they want to. Unfortunately Facebook does not make any distinction between information that they use for commercial purposes and what they use for other purposes.

Facebook argues that advertisers cannot target campaigns around specific individuals. Facebook collects only “anonymous and aggregate information.” Why this actually bothers people is beyond me. People need to understand that Facebook is a FREE utility that you can QUIT any time you want. In order to make this service FREE FOR YOU, they need to make money somehow.

No matter what, you will always see advertisements that are targeted towards your demographics. If you read any articles about Ford or GM on, then you will see ads about buying a car. If you watch TV in Ann Arbor, you will see commercials for Keith Hafner’s local karate school.

Facebook also should get credit for the fact that you can hide specific ads or hide all ads from a specific website. I used to see a bunch of ads from “Rich Dad Poor Dad” seminars, but I think Robert Kiyosaki is full of it so I blocked all ads from those seminars on Facebook.

All things considered, I think the European Commission fails to understand the freedom that Facebook users have. However the Commission sees this as a money-making opportunity for themselves too. They have been able to squeeze billions out of companies like Intel, Google, and Microsoft already. Given the size of Facebook today, they make a natural EC target.

What are your thoughts on the Facebook investigation? Let us know in the comments.