LMNO Roundtable: Facebook Data Tracking


Facebook recently announced that they’re making changes to how they collect and track data outside of Facebook—for real, this time! Companies advertising on Facebook can collect information about what people do on the advertiser’s own website, whether they’re clicking to watch a video, downloading a file, or making a purchase. The proposed changes will give individual Facebook users the option to switch off that behaviour tracking when they visit non-Facebook websites (behaviour tracking within Facebook will remain unchanged). 

The changes will be rolling out “some time this year,” but we’re already fielding questions about what this means for businesses.

Paige UnRuh (Sr. Account Manager), Jessica Tremblay (Sr. Account Manager), and Bronwyn Stoddard (Content Director) chat about what this means for clients, consumers, and our overall Facebook experience.

Okay. So two Senior Account Managers and a Content / Social Strategist walk into a bar…

But for real: what’s the first thing you thought when you heard this news?


Paige: Honestly, I was excited at first, because I thought about what it meant for me as a consumer.


Jessica: My first thought was how this may affect the retargeting parts of our client’s ad strategy.


Bronwyn: I think I’m getting a little jaded by all the conversations about data collection and misuse. My first thought was along the lines of, “Okay. Cool. Is this actually going to change anything?”


Paige: That’s definitely where my brain went next. Does it actually work? Because I can’t see Facebook just letting you click delete.


Jessica: Yeah, that’s the thing. People actually need to take the step and enable the function. Barrier to use for sure.


Paige: But that barrier doesn’t seem too big either—from what I’ve read about trying to delete a profile, there are more steps than just hitting delete. This seems easy for the intermediate user to access.


Bronwyn: Good thought. I haven’t looked at numbers, but even one or two steps beyond an unmissable button that says “Click to disable tracking” on people’s home screens will probably be too many steps for some people. I think this is probably going to affect some demographics more than others. And I can’t wait for all the shared step-by-step posts from older users to hit my feed!


This is where I usually comment “Mom, they’ve been tracking this about you since the beginning of time.”

And as far as I understand it, this is about limiting Facebook’s ability to track you on non-Facebook websites. There’s still a lot of stuff that they can collect based on your behaviour within Facebook. So do we start analyzing WHO we would be losing? And is there an argument in there somewhere that perhaps those are the more desirable customers? Or would you argue that they wouldn’t be as impacted by advertising in the first place?

I also think a bigger thing to consider is that we don’t truly understand what the implication is. To your point Bronwyn, what does this impact? Because if it’s just third party websites, it’s not as BIG of a deal from a marketing standpoint—just re-targeting really.


Jessica: Exactly! Within Facebook advertising, I don’t think things will change much. Facebook and privacy have been a hot topic for a while now and there are a ton of people who care deeply about the issue, and others who simply don’t. I think this will likely be another blip on the radar for most. I am interested to see the roll out and how they offer this. Like you said Bronwyn, if it’s a big flashy banner when you log-in… likely a higher uptake, other than that I doubt we will see too many adopters.


Paige: Also, do we really think Facebook will have a big flashy banner?


Jessica: I’m going to vote no on that.


Bronwyn: I have some thoughts on impact for advertisers, but I’m also interested in our thoughts as consumers on social media. Paige, you think this is going to make the feed a better place, right?


Paige: I think so. Obviously because of what I do for a living, I’m more attuned to what’s going on with my feed and therefore more annoyed with stuff that doesn’t belong. Clothing stores I like can advertise to me non-stop, and I won’t hide them. But if one thing pops up and doesn’t belong? Banned.

Bronwyn: So here’s where my concern as a consumer with advertising experience comes in: if a significant number of people opt out of offsite tracking, then advertisers are going to need to rely more on Facebook behaviour for targeting—behaviour like video views, for example. That could result in less relevant ads, because while I may be interested enough to watch the Tasty video that a friend shared for 10 seconds, I’m definitely not interested in purchasing their product line.

 Visiting a website and browsing around at least has a reasonable assumption of interest in a brand or a product. Watching 3-5 seconds of a video…doesn’t.


Paige: That’s a fair point.

So you’re saying I’m gonna possibly get more crap on my feed if I do hit delete.


Bronwyn: I think you’ll get different crap for sure. I don’t know if it’s going to be more.

But I guess for those instances, there’s still the option of dismissing the ad and telling FB it’s not relevant.


So let’s imagine that a whole lot of people follow through and we lose most of our ability to target people based on their website behaviour: what’s the impact on our clients and the way they advertise on Facebook?


Jessica: I would like to see what the uptake is on this: if we see a significant drop in our ability to retarget then I would definitely suggest shifting budget toward other platforms that do allow for retargeting. I think retargeting is a great tactic for engaged customers that need that little “extra push” or something more personalized to their preference. I’ve seen a high amount of engagement and conversion through retargeted ads and feel it would be a missed opportunity to remove it completely. That being said, there is definitely an option to move some of those retargeting dollars into building out more engaging content and a stronger message to Facebook target groups that may entice our target market to convert sooner.


Paige: Agreed. Retargeting is an important part of the digital lifecycle—and it’s available for a reason.


Bronwyn: I feel like the content rep in the conversation should be advocating for more compelling or convincing content, or a clearer purchase path, or something that lessens the need for retargeting, but I’m a realist, and I don’t think that’s a realistic solution. For as long as there’s been commerce, there have been people who are willing to just buy the thing and people who need to think about buying the thing—that’s not going to change.

 I will say that if we can’t retarget to specific website visitors, then we should take a look at the life cycle of our ads and promoted content to determine how to roll them out to tell the most cohesive story about the product or the business, understanding that we can’t guarantee that people will experience it in the order we want them to.


Paige: I love a good A/B test. Overall, I think what we’re noting is that we need to watch our numbers.


Jessica: Agreed. Once the roll out happens there will be early adopters who opt out, then media coverage ensues driving a second wave of opting out. I’m also just interested to know how many people care enough to do this? Do we know how many people have ad blockers on Facebook? Is there data on that?


Bronwyn: Yeah. It feels like our takeaways are watch the numbers and consider our options—which aren’t bad takeaways. It’s better than walking away thinking that the sky is falling.

Facebook says the change will happen “in the coming months.” So…regroup at Christmas to see how things changed, I guess!


Jessica: My guess is that we really won’t hear about on the consumer side.

 I would like to circle back on this once the roll out has happened and people have had time to opt-in, if they so choose. We all recognize the value that Facebook retargeting provides to our overall strategies and to our objectives, it would be a shame to see it dissolve entirely (which I really don’t think will happen).


Paige: What she said.

Editor’s Note: This was published in early 2019 in response to changes announced in March 2019.