*Being Open And Honest About “Tailored Advertising” On Online Service Websites

In previous posts I have already reported about users’ bias in “tailored/behavioural advertising” on websites or on the results pages or search engines. Newer studies suggest that 66% (!) of all users are sceptical towards “tailored advertising“. Informing people about the technique behind it, even rose the level to 86%(!). Other studies show lower percentages (46%, 30%) but the problem seems obvious.

While surfing on the website on one of my favourite newspapers, (after having logged into Facebook just a couple of minutes before),  I was very surprised to see that one of the faces displayed in an ad for this newspapers Facebook-fan page  was actually a face I recognized as a Facebook-friend of mine. (Try it yourself!)

The fan-page consists out of more than 2.200 members and whenever I accessed the newspaper-website I was always presented his face together with some other 9 faces. I am not too much into maths but I assume the probability of getting presented the same face three times is just too low to be a mere coincidence. (Please see the comments below 😉 )


I have to admit that I am aware of the fact that my dislike of behaviours advertising might be completely irrational and purely emotional.  Thus I also dislike the ads on “questionable software download sites” informing me about people, “living close to me”,  who are allegedly interested in “social interaction” 😉 However, such “questionable software download sites” are just plain creepy by nature and thus one might sadly accept that fact that “such” sites forward the data they have about their visitors to advertisers who then display tailored advertising based on the available facts about the user (rough geographical location, operating system, language, fonts installed, cookies, etc.).


I reckon what actually scarred me about the ad in question however is the fact that it went one step further, apparently connected two sources of information: The first source was the fact that I am visiting this particular online newspaper and all the data I submitted to the paper (cookies). However the second source is my membership on Facebook and that’s what made the ad in my opinion highly intrusive.


When asking the newspaper to confirm that “tailored advertising” is shown on their website I received an answer that was interesting but disappointing at the same time, as the person answering my email replied something like: there is no connection between our newspaper and Facebook. Facebook alone creates the ads”. Isn’t that a bit hypocritical? Obviously there has to be “some kind” of connection between the newspaper-site and Facebook, why/how could Facebook otherwise know that a particular user is currently visiting the site on which Facebook subsequently displays its ads. (In case I’m mistaken on this matter, please do NOT hesitate to tell me!)

Users have to be of course  aware of the fact that most online services need to finance themselves and that, as other system (e.g. Fraxion) are just not well advanced enough or simply not working, advertising is their main source of revenue. Still, it might be a good idea to be honest to ones customers and thus openly communicate (e.g. through placing a distinctive sign onto the website ) that their data, when accessing the website, is subsequently forwarded to third parties. Knowing this User could in return for further free access to the site decide to OPT-IN into this system of advertising. Browsing the website of derstandard.at I found, besides many interesting articles, an Impressum Page but I could nowhere find a kind of an Advertising Policy informing the readers which data the newspaper shares with third parties and if e.g. these parties are later on also obligated to delete this data.


If there is one idea I personally strongly dislike, then it is the idea of Facebook collecting not only the data I have decided to share (with them) but -without my knowledge or consent- also extra data. Facebook, in my opinion, collects this data not only to make my online experience on Facebook more enjoyable, but mainly to “resell” this information, plus the information Facebook already has about me to other advertiser. The more a provider (e.g. Facebook) knows about a user, the more money potential advertisers are willing to pay to delivered “tailored advertising“.

Thus I find it very sad that such well reputed Austrian newspaper such as the “Der Standard” or “Die Presse” are actually collaboration with Facebook on this issue, selling some of their readers privacy in return for advertising revenues from Facebook. However the issue at stake in this case is not primarily user privacy, it is the issue of user trust and how online publishers’ search for choice of intrusive advertising may on the long run harm the website’s reputation. User will eventually get used to this kind of advertising but to leave behind its “creepy” touch, website owners should be open an honest about the kind of advertising displayed on their websites.

PS: To avoid showing up yourself in a similar ad, set your privacy settings on Facebook (Account / Account Settings / Facebook AdvertsAllow ads on platform pages to show my information to“) to “No one“. For more information please see >>here<< (German only unfortunately).

3 Responses to “*Being Open And Honest About “Tailored Advertising” On Online Service Websites”

  1. 1 ork 07/04/2010 at 19:22

    the answer for your probability question is quite easy:
    the probability of seeing your friend the first is: 10/2.267 = 1:227
    the probability to see him also at your second visit: (10/2.267)² = 1:51.393
    to see him 3 times in a row: (10/2.267)³ = 1:11,6mio !!

    well, either you are a very lucky man or facebook-math has ist’s own formulas! ;))

  2. 2 My 50 cents 08/04/2010 at 19:01

    In my opinion, the present question can be solved with the hypergeometric distribution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergeometric_distribution):

    Draw a sample n from a population N without replacement – what is the likelihood for drawing a specific number k of entities with the requested features? In the present case: If facebook displays an ad showing n=10 (allegedly) arbitrary members of a group with N=2000 members, with one of your friends m (here: m=1) being a member of this group – what is the likelihood P for your aquaintance to be among those n=10 arbitrary members, i.e. k=1?

    The likelihood P for this to happen in a number of consecutive trys x (e.g.: x=3) is abovementioned likelihood P for a single event to the power of x (here: to the power of 3).

    However, in this case the application of the hypergeometric distribution seems like breaking a fly on the wheel, since a 10/2000-estimation yields – by and large – the same result …

    Be it as it may: The likelihood for a single event P=1/200=0,005=0,5%, with three consecutive trys x=3: P^3=1/(200)^3=1,25.10^-7=0,0000125%.

    In other words: It is not very likely that Facebook draws the displayed members randomly from the group …


  1. 1 *Google Browser Plugin To Avoid Being Tracked By Google Analytics? « Austrotrabant's Blog Trackback on 07/04/2010 at 10:45

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