In its quest to sell more and more specifically targeted ads, Facebook has embarked on a new partnership with data-mining company Datalogix, which tracks the real effect of online ads on consumer behavior. Datalogix compiled data on the purchasing habits of 70 million American households from loyalty card memberships of more than 1,000 retailers, including drugstores. Although Facebook and Datalogix claim not to share individual data with one another, they will match up Facebook accounts with real life identities to determine whether a Facebook ad led that person to buy a product — and Facebook will use this data to show advertisers what kinds of ads are most effective.
As the Atlantic Wire points out, one of Datalogix’s sources is the CVS ExtraCare card program, which catalogs regular drug purchases by members in order to reward them with discounts. Facebook is keeping the profiles anonymous, but the potential for abuse is significant.
Pharmaceutical industry giants spent about $1 billion on online advertisements in 2010, but are hobbled on social media by FDA guidelines that require the disclosure of all risks alongside benefits. Facebook helped Big Pharma satisfy this regulation by allowing drug companies to block comments on their Facebook pages and control their content. When Facebook eventually required them to open comments, many companies got rid of their pages — but according to some reports, Big Pharma representatives still kept tabs on Facebook groups and pages meant to offer support to people with health problems. This isn’t a new strategy; even before Facebook existed, companies sent representatives to milk cancer support groups. But on Facebook, it’s even easier to identify sick people vulnerable to certain types of marketing.
So Facebook’s consumer information allows pharmaceutical companies to maximize their social media influence without being directly involved in the data collection. By studying regular drug purchasing habits, a company can draw conclusions about the types of ailments and demographic traits that make someone more susceptible to their advertisements — all without actually violating the FDA’s advertising requirements.
You can opt out of Datalogix’ collection through this link.
Though purchasing habits are still matched up with Facebook profiles, Facebook maintains in an email to ThinkProgress they do not collect any user information from Datalogix or from advertisers. They issued the following statement:
“We are working with Datalogix to help advertisers understand how well their Facebook ads are working. We also do this through our partnerships with companies like Nielsen and comScore and through our own advertising tool. We know that people share a lot of information on Facebook, and we have taken great care to make sure that we measure the effectiveness of Facebook ads without compromising the commitments we have made on privacy. We don’t sell people’s personal information, and individual user data is not shared between Facebook, Datalogix or advertisers.”