Facebook Hints At Mobile Ad Network Ambitions By Testing Its Ads In Third-Party Apps

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Facebook said in a blog post today that it has started testing Facebook ads in third-party mobile apps.

The post doesn’t have too many details about the program, like what kinds of data will be used for the ad targeting and what those ads will actually look like. (I’ve asked Facebook PR about those points and will update if I hear back.) It describes the test as “extending Facebook’s rich targeting to improve the relevancy of the ads people see, provide even greater reach for Facebook advertisers, and help developers better monetize their apps.”

Facebook also says that it has run similar tests in the past, but this test is “more like a mobile ad network” because it’s not using “an outside ad-serving platform” and instead working directly with advertisers and publishers.

There was previously speculation about such a network when Facebook started running ads on Zynga.com in 2012. At the time, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine acknowledged that there would be privacy concerns, but he suggested that Facebook has “prepared the world for seeing those little blue-boxed ads all over the Internet.”

Facebook is emphasizing that this is a limited test for now, and I suppose that as with the Zynga.com partnership, this might not turn into a broader initiative. That said, this seems like a natural direction for Facebook to move in, particularly given the current limitations and challenges in mobile ad targeting. The company also seems to have found success by using outside user data to target ads in Facebook through its FBX program.

Expanding mobile ad revenue beyond a specific app or set of apps seems to be one of the big reasons Twitter bought MoPub, too.

Update: In answer to my questions, a Facebook spokesperson told me via email that the ads will “use Facebook standard targeting to show more relevant ads – along the lines of interests, Pages you like, etc.” They also said the ads won’t be labeled as or look like Facebook ads: “It’s more about using FB targeting capabilities to show people more relevant ads in other mobile apps. “