Facebook can’t avoid putting its well-shod foot in its mouth. Seeking to deflect criticism about the fact that it is a data sieve, as revealed in the Cambridge Analytica leak, Facebook said it has scrapped its Partner Categories program, a service that served ads based on information from third-party data suppliers.
One of these vendors is Acxiom, which says it was given no advance notice about the decision.
So Facebook finally acts, five years after the Partner Categories was put into place. If it’s a privacy violation now, we ask, why not five years ago? Worse, it has gone public -- an act that it had to know would harm its suppliers.
This cowardly, sniveling announcement caused Acxiom’s shares to plunge, CNBC reports, and the firm has lowered its 2019 guidance by $25 million.
It’s not clear when or if Facebook named names — on its site, it merely said it was dropping Partner Categories. But there's no secret who Facebook's “third-party data providers” are, and they were promptly identified in reports as “data brokers,” a term that suggests sleazy, gray-market outfits.
What a way to treat trusted partners. Why drag them into this mess that was in no way of their making?
Firms like Acxiom are not, technically, brokers. They glean data from numerous sources, from public records to permission-based response lists, and enable companies to send personalized communications. Many reputable email marketers rely on Acxiom’s services.
So did Facebook until it got itself into a jam with Cambridge Analytica and decided it needed scapegoats on the broader front. Then too, maybe it has started to see Acxiom as a competitor in the information space
Acxiom CEO Scott Howe was right when he told Business Insider that Facebook threw Acxiom right under the bus. He called it a “masterful political manipulation,” and contended that “this is really about their walled garden. They are forcing advertisers to be more reliant on Facebook reporting only."
Oh, and this newfound moral feeling will not prevent Facebook from using these data firms for other purposes, such as measurement, according to quotes given to TechCrunch.
For the record, here is Facebook’s statement on the data pullback:
“We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories. This product enables third party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.”
To put it in perspective, there’s nothing wrong with email marketers using services like Acxiom’s, as long as they are transparent about it, observe the law and are proactive about getting permissions when required. Acxiom itself says it does all this.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve covered Acxiom’s ups and downs for years, and have visited its headquarters in Arkansas. I’ve spent hours conversing with in-house experts about privacy. It’s a subject the firm apparently takes more seriously than Facebook does.