Facebook may have solved the problem of how to get ad revenue from mobile users without ruining their experience and driving them away. But the answer — getting other suckers to take the rap for displaying the ads — might not appeal to those who already find Facebook’s data handling a bit creepy.
When it began work on floating on the stock exchange, Facebook was forced to admit that mobile formed a serious threat to its business model: unless it could replicate its main website advertising on mobile devices, the continuing growth of mobile web use could hit its profits.
As every cynic knows, the social network’s main commercial purpose is delivering users with specific interests to advertisers. The problem is that Facebook has struggled to find a way to incorporate ads into its mobile site without them being so obtrusive on the smaller screen that it risks upsetting users too much to the point that they spend less time on the site.
The solution is remarkably simple. Facebook will instead simply make user data available to the people behind other Android and iOS apps. Those apps will show targeting advertising based on this data (anything from your age and gender to your listed interests to the activities of your Facebook friends.) The people who run the app then pay Facebook a fixed fee to get details of a certain number of users who meet their targeting requirements.
The ads will be a combination of banners and interstitial, meaning they appear in full screen as an app starts up, then disappear. As well as appearing in apps, they’ll also appear on mobile websites, but only where the user has already used their Facebook log-in as an authentication tool on that site.
To start off with Facebook will test the concept on a small scale and isn’t revealing the apps, sites or advertising agencies involved. It will be looking at how mobile users respond to the moves, but the working theory seems to be that most of these apps and mobile sites would have been carrying ads anyway, so it certainly won’t do any harm if the ads are more relevant to users.