Reed Albergotti and
Updated May 21, 201
Facebook on Wednesday added a feature to its mobile app that identifies music and television shows playing in the background and suggests users share them with a larger audience.
The feature was the latest in a series of changes by Facebook to nudge users to divulge more—and more-specific—personal information on the social network
. This week, it introduced a feature that allows users to prompt their friends to divulge more information about themselves. Last year, the social network allowed users to categorize posts by activity.
Facebook uses the data to sell targeted advertisements. The more detailed the information it gathers from users, the more personalized—and expensive—advertising the company can sell.
A February survey by Pew Research found that 10% of U.S. Facebook users update their status daily, and 4% update it more than once a day. If Facebook could increase those numbers, it could gather more data to target ads on the service more precisely.
"They're just trying to reduce the friction of capturing that information," said Jesse Pujji, chief executive of Ampush Media Inc., a digital-advertising company. Facebook wants to make it easy, fun and useful for users to enter data, he said. "Facebook wants to demonstrate utility before it asks people to give up privacy."
Facebook declined to comment.
The recent changes represent an effort by Facebook to prod users into sharing more information about themselves. In recent years, the company has added categories, like "watching," "eating" or "listening," that users can add to their posts. In April it created a "traveling to" category, allowing users to post their travel destinations. A "nearby friends" feature, also rolled out last month, lets users know when their Facebook friends are in the vicinity. Turning on the feature lets Facebook track users wherever they go, even when the app is closed.
This week, Facebook began allowing users to request their friends' relationship status using the new "Ask" button.
Advertisers like the additional data.
"Being more relevant is something that's always appealing for marketers, so there's an advantage in having more data," said Sarah Baehr, group director of digital strategy and investment at the Carat unit of advertising company Dentsu Inc. "We focus so much on trying to understand who the consumer is, so the more data we have to help understand that, the better."
Sharing information also brings users back to Facebook, creating openings for the company to sell more ads.
But some consumer advocates worry about the social impact.
"These aren't little benign tools," said James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that is focused on children's and family issues. "The reality is that every little bit of data contained in the touch of a keystroke or button reveals details about users and particularly young users. That can have ramifications for years to come."
Facebook's collection of personal data is its most valuable weapon against its biggest competitors, Google Inc. and the television industry. Google controls 32% of the $120 billion digital-advertising market, far ahead of Facebook's 7.4%, according to research firm eMarketer. Facebook is just beginning to take dollars away from what eMarketer says is a $66.4 billion TV-advertising market.
Facebook has been working to convince marketers that spending money with the social network influences consumer behavior. In a test with data handler Datalogix, Facebook said it found that ads on its network influenced users who saw them to buy the advertised products in brick-and-mortar stores. Facebook said the ads were more effective than those on TV, largely because Facebook helped brands target potential customers more narrowly.
Facebook has said it would soon make its data available to publishers and developers of other mobile apps, where marketers will be able to buy ads.