Facebook tries to make ad targeting explanations more useful

Facebook has been adding new tools to provide more transparency about why users are seeing certain ads and content (and what they can do about it), but in a blog post today, Product Manager Sreethu Thulasi wrote, “We heard feedback from people that they can still be hard to understand and difficult to navigate.”

To address that, the company said it’s making two changes. First, when you select the “Why am I seeing this ad?” option on an advertisement, you’ll get more info:

In the past, “Why am I seeing this ad?” highlighted one or two of the most relevant reasons, such as demographic information or that you may have visited a website. Now, you’ll see more detailed targeting, including the interests or categories that matched you with a specific ad. It will also be clearer where that information came from (e.g. the website you may have visited or Page you may have liked), and we’ll highlight controls you can use to easily adjust your experience.

An accompanying video shows how a user might dig into an ad to see how their interests, location, demographic information and a past visit to the advertiser’s website all played a role in the targeting. If you don’t like what you see, you can adjust your interests on Facebook, or your can click through to the “What You Can Do” section, which will point out options like blocking all ads from that advertiser or limiting the personal data that’s shared by third-party companies.

Speaking of third-party data, Facebook said it’s also telling you more about the businesses that are uploading data about you, dividing the listing (found in your Ad Preferences) into two sections — one that shows advertisers that have uploaded a list with your information and used it to run an ad in the past seven days, and another of businesses that have shared lists with your data, along with advertisers that have used that data to show you an ad in the past seven days.

Like many privacy tools, these may not get used by most Facebook users. But for those who are curious or concerned, this seems like a clear way to make the information accessible without dumbing it down too much.

And of course, this is just one of a number of steps Facebook has taken recently to increase transparency as it faces regulatory scrutiny (and even proposals for a break-up).