Facebook's targeted advertising program is "materially different from behavioral targeting as it is usually discussed," Chris Kelly, the social network's chief privacy officer, said in remarks prepared for a Thursday morning hearing before two House subcommittees.
"In offering its free service to users, Facebook is dedicated to developing advertising that is relevant and personal without invading users' privacy, and to giving users more control over how their personal information is used in the online advertising environment," read the remarks for two subcommittees of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The hearing, titled "Behavioral Advertising: Industry Practices And Consumers' Expectations," was also slated to include testimonies from Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy; Scott Cleland, president of Precursor; Charles Curran, executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative; Edward Felten, director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University; Anne Toth, vice president of policy and head of privacy at Yahoo; and Nicole Wong, deputy general counsel at Google.
Kelly, a White House staffer under President Clinton, has announced an exploratory bid to run for attorney general in California.
Social-media sites like Facebook, where members fill out extensive personal profiles that can detail everything from their music tastes to travel plans to political leanings, are at the forefront of new developments in behavioral ad targeting. The Facebook Ads program lets advertisers fine-tune their campaigns to reach specific demographics and audiences. Kelly insisted that this does not constitute an invasion of user privacy, an Internet-wide concern that the Federal Trade Commission has been exploring at the request of privacy advocates.
"The FTC's behavioral advertising principles recognize the important distinctions made by Facebook in its ad targeting between the use of aggregate, non-personally identifiable information that is not shared or sold to third parties," Kelly's remarks read, "versus other sites' and companies surreptitious harvesting, sharing and sale of personally identifiable information to third party companies."
Facebook ultimately underwent a "notice and comment period modeled in part on the federal government's rulemaking procedure...(with) a user vote at the end of the process."
The points he tried to drive home the most: that Facebook members have extensive control over their personal information and that Facebook does not allow advertisers access to "personally identifiable" data in the Facebook Ads program.
Kelly also included a general mea culpa of sorts: "Perhaps because our site has developed so quickly, Facebook may have sometimes been inartful in communicating with our users and the general public about our advertising products," he stated. "We learned many lessons about the importance of user education and extensive control from the imperfect introduction of our Beacon product in 2007. As a result, Facebook continues to be dedicated to empowering consumers to control their information in both the noncommercial and the commercial context because we believe that should be the future of advertising."
A few other interesting tidbits from Kelly's remarks: out of Facebook's 200-million-plus active users, about 65 million are in the U.S.; more than 10,000 sites are using the Facebook Connect universal log-in product; and Facebook plans to continue the discussion-and-feedback-period strategy on any future changes to its "critical site documents."