Facebook's Owen Van Natta Speaks!
Here’s a video interview I did while at the Monaco Media Forum with Facebook’s Chief Revenue Officer Owen Van Natta about the new ad product from the hot social network–dubbed “social advertising”– that has everyone’s knickers in a knot.
Excuse that metaphor, but I am traveling in England, so it seemed exactly the right one to describe the horror that many have expressed that ever more targeted advertising is going on on the Internet.
In any case, listen to Van Natta–the longtime and often unsung Facebook exec who struck the sweet deal with Microsoft and is the one most charged with making it so with that pretty explicit chief revenue officer title of his.
Of course, the controversy that has mounted in the United States after Facebook unveiled its efforts last week to use its vaunted “social graph” to tout new ad initiatives that would target users’ behavior and leverage their friends comes as no surprise.
Pretty much every hot online service that has come down the pike–from AOL to Google–has gotten sucked up into this debate, even as more ads have become more targeted and scrutiny of online consumers has grown exponentially.
Facebook’s giant faux pas? Founder Mark Zuckerberg had the cheeky nerve to actually brag about it all at the ad event in New York when his nefarious plot was unveiled.
“Nothing influences a person more than a recommendation from a trusted friend,” Zuckerberg said when he introed the ad scheme. (He also rather cloddishly noted: “The next hundred years will be different for advertising, and it starts today.”)
Well, he kind of had to say it all, didn’t he, especially with MySpace announcing a me-too ad program the day before and with Google slapping him silly with a PR-fueled attack the week before with its the-jury-is-still-out OpenSocial initiative?
Most of all, of course, Zuckerberg had to with the still-fresh $15 billion valuation of Facebook from its $240 million investment deal with Microsoft screaming for justification: There has to be a real business model in here!!
Of course, some of the press and a whole lot of privacy groups have been calling foul about the plan, even though it is just not the biggest leap ever taken related to personal data being used to target consumers by advertisers.
For years now, a range of contextual and behavorial data has been sucked out of online services and used to better aim ads right back at them. Facebook and MySpace are, of course, crossing yet another line, by more explicitly linking data you input into the mix.
That includes the possibility that they could broadcast your purchases to your friends, which some claim is illegal and requires written consent, because apparently you become some sort of unpaid celebrity shill by doing so.
I very much doubt that–all you might become is a pretty irksome friend hawking your deep affinity with, say, Krispy Kreme donuts. (Hey, this picture is an unpaid endorsement, but: Kara says you should eat them constantly until you go into a diabetic coma!!)
That has not stopped the noisy protests, of course. Just yesterday, two more consumer groups asked the federal government–specifically the typically ineffective Federal Trade Commission–to look into the new ad plans by both Facebook and MySpace, calling their efforts a violation of privacy.
“MySpace and Facebook are like the digital-data equivalent of Fort Knox for Madison Avenue marketers,” wrote Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in a letter to the FTC. “It is a kind of one-stop data shop for marketers.”
Nice metaphor by Chester, but let’s remember we don’t really rely on that gold locked away anymore to bolster our currency, and the treasure of social-networking data might prove to be just as useless.
In fact, I am more concerned that these ad plans turn out to be underwhelming, proving Facebook and all sorts of social-networking businesses are more fun than, well, actual profit-spewing businesses.
I think the bigger question to ask: What if it doesn’t work so well?
Sorry for being so jaded, but the tracking of online activities is something that will only get more and more customizable over time and is hard to argue with if users choose to share that information directly or via becoming a “fan” of a product.
Like I said: Profoundly annoying, potentially goofy, possibly inane, all a resounding yes! But illegal? Um, no.
Or, as Zuckerberg also said at the ad rollout in New York last week, Facebook is–well, he hopes anyway–an “ad-supported business.”