Justin Franks

Social+Civic Entrepreneur

Software Engineer

Cooperative Advocate

Justin Franks

Social+Civic Entrepreneur

Software Engineer

Cooperative Advocate

Blog Post

How Facebook makes money from selling your attention

December 6, 2019 Blog
How Facebook makes money from selling your attention

Simply put, Facebook’s entire business model is dependent on selling our attention – like the companies advertised here paid for me to see these today.

Behind the curtains, companies are placing competing bids to get their ads on to our news feeds.

It makes me wonder what the reason we came to the platform is in the first place, and what we can build with each other knowing what we know now.

As individual citizens, should we have to be competing with companies to win the attention of our friends and family, or to see things that are relevant to us? As organizers of community groups or business owners that have put all our time and energy into building our community on this platform, is it still necessary to compete with ad content to reach the news feeds of those who opted in to be active in our communities?

I’m not sure we’re comfortable with answering these questions yet as a society, or its just not at the top of our list, but the creation of alternative social media platforms is inevitable.

Ad Retargeting

What I do know: You may not follow a company, but they may very likely follow you. (plays sinister music in background).

This is called Ad Retargeting, and I will break down how it generally works using the example I provided above:

  1. I visited a website of one or all of the companies seen in or next to my Facebook feed
  2. Each of these companies have a Facebook tracking cookie (called a Pixel) embedded in their websites
  3. The next time I went to Facebook, I very uncoincidentally see ads from these very same companies

This is somewhat of an oversimplification but just illustrates the point.

Collectively as a population, how much is our attention actually worth on average?

It turns out, anywhere between 20 cents to several dollars per click depending on how well a company can target you.

aka – this company is betting money that they know you so well that you will click on their ad, or else Facebook raises the price per click.

But, how much is your attention really worth, to you?

What is relevant information from our friends, family, or news source actually worth to us? Would we as citizens actually impose a tax on ourselves to get the attention of each other back? Would we pay to filter all of the digital noise we always complain about?

We will pay for Spotify premium or Hulu Plus so we don’t have to see their ads, but we don’t expect more from our social media platforms that we likely spend even more time in regards to our population as a whole.

So what alternatives do we have?

Some interesting options have been floating around:

  1. Allow users to choose what ads they want to see
  2. Users pay a subscription fee to not see ads and have full control over what they spend their attention on
  3. Facebook and Google pay their users a share of what they earn from their attention
  4. Entirely new online social media networks (platform cooperatives)

In either case, given Facebook’s reliance on advertising revenue to sustain their existing business model, things should get very interesting as the political headwinds begin picking up.

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