A few months ago, it emerged that Facebook was planning to add passive listening features to its mobile apps that would enable the company to listen users’ surroundings. The purpose would be to find out what Facebook users are listening to or watching, in order to update their status and target adds accordingly. The intended addition of passive listening caused concern amongst users and online privacy advocates that saw it as an invasion that could grant Facebook the power to access sensitive information. The company responded stating that the data collected with this feature would not be stored and that it would be handled securely. However, recent revelations suggest that the company may renege on its promise.
The Washington Post reported last month that Facebook has established an agreement with Nielsen Media Research, a recognized company that traditionally measures TV ratings with the help of volunteer viewers. The company installs boxes in the participant households to keep track of what they watch on TV. The agreement with Facebook is set to start this fall and it will allow the social network website to keep record of the shows watched by its users on their mobile devices and submit age and gender details to Nielsen. Through this partnership, the TV ratings company will be able to get information about demographics and online viewing habits, which in turn will ensure that ads are targeted in an effective manner.
The collaboration between Nielsen and Facebook goes a while back, as the Social media site has previously provided demographic data regarding users that view online ads. Nielsen has also partnered with Twitter to keep track of users that tweet about TV shows. The effort called “Nielsen Twitter TV Rating”, has raised advertisers and broadcasters’ interest on Twitter and has made them realize the potential of tweets as a way to get higher ratings.
Facebook insists that the partnership will not have a negative effect on its users’ privacy. The company claimed that their partnership is based in strict privacy principles that will guarantee that the information collected does not provide any details that could reveal the identity of individual users. According to Facebook, it is not their intention to use audience measurement systems to adjust ads targeting but only to track information. The company declared that it is committed to keep the privacy of its users protected. However, the fact that Facebook recently acquired LiveRail, a small company whose main focus is online ads targeting, seems to contradict the social network giant’s statements.
Even though users will have the option to disable device tracking while downloading mobile TV apps, they may not be notified about the partnership between Facebook and Nielsen. In light of the acquisition of LiveRail it is hard to believe that Facebook and Nielsen do not intend to use measurement of data with the aim of targeting ads and even getting more information about users.