Monday, December 26, 2016

How Much Are You Worth To Facebook? A Free Tool Now Provides The Answer

Online advertising generated in 2013 $42B worth of revenue and more than 3.4 million direct and indirect jobs in Europe in 2012 alone. It supports some of the most important Internet services such as search, social media and user generated content sites. However, the lack of transparency regarding tracking techniques and the type of information companies collect about users is creating increasing concerns in society.

Software tools for implementing total mitigation (e.g., ad blocker or cookies blocker) have been released to block any transfer of information from end users towards the online advertising ecosystem. A massive adoption of these tools by end users may cause disruptions in the digital economy by affecting the online advertising sector and leading to consequences such as losing of a large number of employments.

It is a well-known fact that Facebook is more than a social media channel. Each year, the company makes about 4 billion dollars in advertising revenues. What people advertising on Facebook did not know until now, however, is how much profit their own activity actually generates.

Credit; © Darren415, Shutterstock

This question has been bugging researchers at the University of Madrid for a while – enough for them to create an application providing the answer to each individual Facebook user in real time. The tool, dubbed ‘Facebook Data Visualisation Tool’ (FDVT), can be downloaded as a free extension for Google Chrome, and soon enough for Firefox and Opera.

The application is rather easy to use. Once having downloaded it, the user enters some basic identity data including his age, gender, relationship status, interests, country, etc. Once it’s done, the tool immediately starts identifying the profile's economic value on the advertising market in real time. The ‘real time’ part is really important, as Facebook advertising is a volatile sector with highly varying supply and demand.

‘Evidently, each of us has a different market price according to our profile, so the tool will give you an estimate of what you are generating,’ explain Ángel and Rubén Cuevas, UC3M professors and developers of the new app. ‘When you connect to Facebook and receive an ad, what we do is obtaining its associated value, the price that those advertisers pay for displaying those ads or each 'click' that you make on one of those ads’. The two researchers notably noticed that the average cost of a user in Spain is roughly half of the cost of a user in the US.

UC3M researchers have developed within the framework of TYPES a new software tool, called FDTV, that displays advertising revenue generated by each user of Facebook. Dr. Ángel Cuevas Rumin talks about this intriguing tool in a video interview.

Among the most interesting facts one will notice when using FDVT is that Facebook continually makes profit, whether you are actually clicking on an ad or not. As Ángel Cuevas notes, ‘The advertising sector increasingly "profiles down to the last detail" their potential customers.’ Concretely, this means that – based on his web activity and characteristics – a user will receive increasingly personalised ads, so as to improve the advertiser’s return on investment. ‘There must be "a balance" between this personalisation of advertising (which can be expressly agreed to by users in order to improve their experience) and the guarantee of maintaining basic rights’, Cuevas adds.

The team insists that their intention with FDVT was not to demonise Facebook, but rather to push them to report what they do in all transparency.

The development of FDVT was part of the broader TYPES project funded under Horizon 2020. This project, which worries about current consequences of opaque advertising practices in the form of ad blockers disrupting the digital economy, aims at defining, implementing, and validating technologies and tools to guarantee privacy and transparency. With these tools, they intend to provide end users with control upon the amount of information they share.

The TYPES project is due for completion in October 2017.  TYPES aims to cope with this challenge by defining, implementing, and validating in pre-market status a holistic framework of technologies and tools that guarantees both transparency and privacy preservation, gives the end user control upon the amount of information he/she is willing to share, and defines privacy-by-design solutions. In particular, these tools should enable the end user:

For more information, please see: project website

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