Facebook has announced upcoming changes intended to make ads on the social networking "better" by tailoring ads to your recent Web usage.
The social networking juggernaut says it currently uses customers' activities on Facebook to inform what ads will be targeted to which people. Soon, Facebook says without a specific date, ad targeting on the network will also take into account users' activities elsewhere on the Web.
"Let's say that you’re thinking about buying a new TV, and you start researching TVs on the web and in mobile apps. We may show you ads for deals on a TV to help you get the best price or other brands to consider," Facebook's announcement says.
This strategy is nothing new to online advertising.
In print or on television, ads are targeted to the best guess of who will see the content based on prior statistics like ratings or distribution. On the Web, a single ad space can be filled with an infinite number of messages tailored to each individual visitor.
Google, for example, makes it easy to see the demographic assumptions associated with your account, offering an "Ad Settings" page. Google is just one of the 99 companies participating in the Digital Advertising Alliance's self-regulatory program for online behavioral advertising.
Facebook's announcement says it is also working with the DAA's program and advises users they can use the DAA's opt out form to prevent this kind of ad targeting.
Facebook is also announcing that an ad preferences tool will be made available to every user and will be accessible from every ad on the social network. The preferences will explain why you see a certain ad and, Facebook says, will allow you to remove certain topic areas that do not interest you.
Facebook says the new ad preferences tool will become available in the "next few weeks" to users in the United States.
One way to visualize how websites track and share your data through partners or advertising networks is called "Lightbeam." Produced by Mozilla, the non-profit organization that programs the popular Firefox Web browser, the software is an add-on for that browser.
Upon being installed, the software starts to build a database of the sites the user has visited and which third party sites are active on those pages. Third parties could include advertising services, social media or software used to build the website's services.