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David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

New Facebook Data Strategy: Pushing Out Video Ads

Facebook has held up data efficiency as a boon to the world’s unconnected, but video ad technology could gobble some of the gains.

  • December 19, 2013

When Facebook announced last August it wanted to connect the rest of the world with Internet access, the company emphasized that its goal was one of “making Internet access affordable by making it more efficient to deliver data.”

Yesterday a Facebook blog post announced the company will start deploying video ads that show up even when you didn’t click anything. The video ads will be static until they become visible on your news feed screen—then they’ll start automatically playing. (And if you click, the video goes to full screen and sound comes on.) But how is this new video advertising being delivered? Facebook explains that it’s engineering things so the ads will be pushed out to your phone, in advance, when you are connected to Wi-Fi. 

Using Wi-Fi spares cellular data plans, Facebook notes. Yes, but Wi-Fi connections—in rural village hot spots, but often in other contexts—can be very constrained in terms of bandwidth (see “How Remote Places Can Get Cellular Coverage by Doing It Themselves” and “A Tiny Cell Phone Transmitter Takes Root in Rural Africa”).  And while users will have technically approved the practice under a Facebook app permission process, such permissions and privacy settings are often opaque and complex.

Facebook has made claims about wanting to help the world’s marginalized people get Internet access. Yet as my recent piece notes (see “Facebook’s Two Faces”), its current business practices often cost developing-world Internet providers extra money, and the company isn’t actualy investing in bricks-and-mortar infrastructure, at least not yet. This new program of pushing out unrequested video ads provides fresh reason to keep a close eye on what Facebook and other Web companies will actually try to do, over the long term, with any data efficiency gains they may realize. 

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