Facebook merges its Big Data on its Users with Big Data Brokers--and buys ad tracker Atlas

As part of the comprehensive system of commercial surveillance tracking us 24/7 wherever we go and do, more companies are integrating offline and purchasing data with online information. But when the largest commercial database of individuals around the world marries (link is external)its user data with the ton of consumer records held by Acxiom, Epsilon, (link is external) Bluekai (link is external) and Datalogix, (link is external) major privacy and consumer protection issues are raised. Acxiom—whose President just told (link is external) the annual meeting of online marketing hotshots that “Data can make you rich,” offers new ways to track and target a user. It just unveiled what it calls its “AbiliTag” system (which will presumably be used by Facebook). Here’s how Ad Age describes (link is external) what it can do:

“The tag system extends the technology Acxiom uses internally to match its clients’ direct mail, email, online cookies and other data sets, now enabling it for ad targeting online and in mobile. The system will eventually be used for digital TV ads also. The approach is not entirely different from offline-to-online database matching that connects an advertiser’s data to large sites with registration data such as Yahoo or AOL. However, Acxiom argues that its system goes beyond that approach by allowing sites that don’t have registration information to connect advertisers to their customers in digital channels. The idea is to use the Acxiom tag to identify a customer who visits an Acxiom client site, then a publisher partner site.”

Acxion describes (link is external) AbilTag’s benefits to publishers (excerpt): “With AbiliTag publishers can access a growing range of benefits from Acxiom: Provide advertisers access to the richest possible audience information - their audience data along with advertisers’ CRM data (the best targeting data available) and Acxiom’s rich demographic and interest data. Assure the highest quality of integration through Acxiom’s patented real-time audience matching and recognition solution AbiliTag. … Offer more precise online audience targeting, measurement and attribution to advertisers. Provide Fortune 500 advertisers audience targeting capabilities with data they are already know and understand. Offer secure, scalable and compliant access to 45M+ consumers per month on 60M+ devices. Offer audience portraits utilizing the combined audience data that demonstrate greater insight and added value to advertisers. … Allow advertisers to leverage insights from offline multivariate consumer prediction models where propensity to purchase, shopper preferences, and LTV are already known.

Meanwhile, Facebook is acquiring from its partner Microsoft the online ad analytics and attribution company Atlas (link is external). Here’s what Atlas does with Facebook data:

“Advertisers create and designate an ad to an engineered audience in Facebook, comprised of various parameters, including demographic and interest-based criteria. The resonance of the message within each audience can then be measured with precision and reported within Atlas. From this, a compelling story can be told. For example, advertisers can gain true insights into the traction their messaging holds in driving acquisition. In addition, by merit of supported impression and view through metrics, latent branding effects can be examined, identifying correlations with consumer behavior weeks to months following exposure to Facebook advertising. Audiences and creative messaging can be constantly refined until the advertiser sees the optimal results they are striving for. Additionally through statistical aggregation the overall performance of social display can be evaluated and pitted against other channels that are competing for credit. Viewing Facebook tracked data through Atlas’s Engagement Mapping (link is external), advertisers can ascertain where Facebook falls within the purchase funnel and make the most informed decisions as a result. The implications of Facebook tracking within Atlas, however, reach far beyond linear performance measurement and standard reporting.

The FTC, Senate Commerce Committee, GAO and others examining the impact of Big Data Brokers on privacy and consumer protection should make Facebook’s new set of data gethering and targeting alliances a key focus.