EU clamps down on how market researchers, advertisers use Facebook

NOVEMBER 30, 2011 – Although it has been common practice for advertisers to conduct market research offline as well as through online communities and social media websites, regulators in Europe are saying some industry practices have been less than scrupulous.

The Telegraph reports that the European Commission wants to put limits on how Facebook uses the personal information users publish on the site when it sells advertising space to marketers – a practice some have argued encroaches upon people’s privacy.

The vice president of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, promoted the plan as a way to standardize punishments for firms that violate data protection laws.

“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,” Reding said, as quoted by the newspaper.

The source also points to a report from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which concluded that many consumers are not aware that networks are using their information to help advertisers create more tailored messages and ads.

According to Information Age, the investigation by the Irish watchdog was touched off when an Austrian law student sent a request to Facebook for all the data it had on him – friend requests, photos that he had de-tagged and chat logs – and filed a complaint regarding the company maintaining information he had deleted.

However, Facebook does warn users that their data could be used in any way the website deems suitable in the licenses agreement, the Telegraph notes. The company defended its practices, telling the newspaper that any data it gives to marketers would allow for targeted campaigns, but not targeted individuals.

“We can show relevant ads in a way that respects individual privacy because our system only provides advertisers with anonymous and aggregate information for the purpose of targeting ads,” a Facebook spokesman said. “Adverts are personalized to the individual user. We do not track peoples’ behavior to serve advertising.”

Proposed revisions to the data protection rules made by the Industry Coalition for data protection (ICDP) included setting a goal of maintaining citizens’ “fundamental right” to privacy, New Europe reports. The group also recommended cutting down the bureaucratic procedures associated with data protection law, as well as implementing a self-regulated system.