Privacy and Personalisation Can Coexist, says Facebook

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On the long-standing dilemma about walking a fine line between wanting both personalisation and privacy, Facebook, which has been decrying Google and Apple’s moves to kill third-party cookies effectively, answered the crucial digital marketing question at a roundtable on May 27 attended by Martechvibe. “Privacy and personalisation can co-exist,” said Ben Savage, Software Engineer at Facebook, at the roundtable that focused on the cookie-less future of digital marketers and the way forward. 

Of late, Facebook has been vocal against the abolishment of third-party cookies by Google and Apple. Apple’s stand for user privacy became a talking point after its Safari browser banished third-party cookies. Soon Google Chrome followed suit. Apple asks app developers in the iStore to specify what data they collect. Apple said that it wants users to control the amount of data whether or not apps with third-party affiliations share their data. The consumer has the final say in the amount of data they share with marketers. 

Understandably, Facebook is irked as the majority of Apple product users are blocking its tracking features. Now, marketers are upset with Facebook as they are not clear if their advertisements will reach the target consumers. 

At the roundtable, Facebook drew attention to how it brings value to marketers and advertisements and explained how it intends to continue doing that with privacy-enhancing technologies that allow personalised and contextual advertisements while processing fewer data.

The need for privacy-enhancing tech isn’t new. The demand came to light when GDPR was relaunched with more teeth and power to hold enterprises accountable for the data and safeguard of privacy of its users. The onus is on enterprises to address issues of privacy, consent, data minimisation. New regulatory and platform experience requirements have opened up and increased the number of regulatory experience requirements. Most consumers in the US and Europe are required to approve three different forms (or pop-ups) that seek permission to collect data. These are Apple’s iOS, consent for cookies and consent for GDPR compliance. 

Also read: Apple Vs Facebook – The Big Fight Over Privacy 

Facebook has made efforts to emerge as a privacy-focused communications platform, creating a set of tools to give consumers control of their privacy. These tools help consumers understand and take control of their data practices and help them adjust to a  set of privacy settings to keep their information secure. 

Facebook insists that it goes over and above its data policies to give its users complete control over the advertisements they are served. For instance, letting users view, add, and remove preferences created for them. Users can even click on any ad, learn why they are seeing it, and adjust their settings.

To give consumers more control over their data, Facebook has introduced tools for deleting anything that has been posted or helps transfer data to other services. Facebook says that part of having a free and open internet means that people should be able to transfer their data to other apps and services they use.

Facebook has been raising concerns on how it is getting a raw deal in the privacy battle between consumers and marketers. On one hand, privacy groups are hounding Facebook for the amount of data it collects and the alleged lack of transparency in how it processes it. On the other hand, marketers are smarting at Apple, Google among others for banning third-party cookies and leaving them with no choice. Regulations like GDPR have increased the heat on marketers not complying with data safety and privacy regulations. 

Left with no choice, marketers are hounding Facebook to obtain some semblance of their advertising metrics. Through privacy-enhancing technologies like Secure Multiparty Computation, Blind Signatures, and On-Device Learning, Facebook is attempting to walk the tightrope between privacy and advertising. 

Secure Multi-Party Computation (SMPC) – Limits access to the individually identifiable information that Facebook processes. Multi-party communication ensures the input data remains private even if it is stored and referred to by clients whenever they want without any time limit. SMPCs don’t infringe upon consumer privacy due to secret sharing, the accuracy is verifiable and due to parameter secrecy, SMPCs can’t be reverse-engineered. 

Blind Signatures help Facebook answer a critical question. How to verify a click or a purchase is authentic when you have no idea who the purchaser is? Blind Signatures provides the solution. This is a type of digital signature that conceals the identity of the message contents and the sender. The sender’s message is cryptographically blinded prior to the recipient signing it. When necessary the signatures can be authenticated but due to “unlinkability”, the message cannot be connected back to the sender. The signatures are unique and inform Facebook about the sale which in turn is conveyed to the marketer. Another real-world example of blind signatures is electronic voting machines (EVM). 

On-Device Learning helps Facebook learn some unique behaviour of the consumer while protecting their privacy.
How does this work? Facebook said, “it aggregates user behaviour from across billions of devices from across the globe to create an ML-powered customer profile”.
When asked how many such profiles are created, or where the data goes, Facebook said the data is used for research. 

Asked whether Facebook was working on creating identifiers for marketers similar to Google’s FLoC, considering the third-party cookie phase-out is due next year, Savage said “there was no plan to create such an identifier right now, however, research is underway,”
stressing the need for collaboration from other platforms like Apple and Google.

Also Read: 5 Ways to Harness the Power of Website Personalisation

“Educating marketers about the death of the third-party cookie and investing in tools that help marketers respect privacy is the way forward,” said Meera Krishna, Product Marketing Lead at Facebook. “Marketing and personalisation of advertisements are possible while upholding consumer privacy.”

On how Facebook planned to become a go-between for consumers and marketers in different parts of the globe while factoring in changes in privacy laws and a possible cocktail of platforms, Savage said platforms need to factor SMBs and instead of introducing “sweeping regulations that upend the ecosystem”.

“They must introduce regulations that are easily adaptable and are governed by use cases”, Savage added. “Businesses require platforms and as go-between businesses and platforms, I request everyone to come together and chalk out a plan that doesn’t have to upset one side to satisfy the other. Privacy and personalisation can co-exist.”