Facebook Opens Up Some Targeting Data To Its Other Ad Platform, Atlas

The company acquired Atlas in 2013 from Microsoft. Now, that service will be able to deliver more targeted ads using Facebook's data.

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Facebook said Sunday it was relaunching its advertising platform Atlas, and extending anonymized data it has on its users to Atlas in order to serve better ads off of Facebook.

Basically, it means Facebook's targeting data will be available to advertisers that aren't advertising just on Facebook, but are also using its advertising platform Atlas that it acquired in 2013 for Microsoft. Historically, advertisers off Facebook have had to rely on "cookies," or digital markers left by websites on a device. Cookies are increasingly unreliable as more users begin to use mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, leading to many major advertising providers — like Facebook and Google — searching for alternatives. Omnicom will be one of the first advertising providers working with the new data on Atlas.

"It solves a huge issue for us, which is mobile, it's not really cookie-based," Omincom Digital CEO Jonathan Nelson told BuzzFeed News. "But when you log into Facebook they know who you are, they get at the mobile issue, which is a particular pain point. We've gone more and more blind as to who they are, but the advertising on mobile is generally not as focused as it would be on the desktop. They start to get a long way to solving those problems."

When a user logs into Facebook on a device, the company is able to tie a device identifier to a specific Facebook account, creating a "real identity" for that device. Then, when an advertiser using Atlas sets up a campaign targeting users that meet a specific criteria — such as age or gender — Atlas serves ads targeted to those users in apps and on sites off of Facebook.

In this sense, Atlas serves as a mediation platform. Facebook tells Atlas what data it has on a specific user, and then when an Atlas advertiser asks for a specific demographic that has more advanced targeting built in, Facebook will deliver the advertiser a batch of anonymized users that are targeted to that. Facebook does not, the company said, hand any identifying user data over to Atlas advertisers.

Facebook's strength as a home for advertisements is the data it has on its users. In that sense, Facebook is able to maximize the value for its advertisers by targeting campaigns at a much more specific level — say, users that specifically like tennis shoes and have installed the Nike app — than any previous advertising platform. Facebook's advertising ranking in News Feed is dependent on not only the value for the advertiser, but also the impact on its engagement for users, as BuzzFeed News has previously detailed.

Thus, opening up that data — particularly for an ad serving service owned by Facebook, which would be a natural step — means a wider swath of advertisers can get access to that targeting data across more devices. Better-targeted ads are then worth more because the users that engage with those ads — either by buying something or watching a video, or the like — are higher-quality and tend to drive more value for advertisers. And Atlas users won't confuse different people on different devices, which might lead to poorly targeted ads.

"It makes a lot of sense, they're getting us a lot closer to individuals, and at Omnicom we've talked about putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time on the right platform is what matters," Nelson said. "Facebook is going to allow us to do exactly that, right person, right time, right message on right platform with known consumers."

Matthew Lynley is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News in San Francisco. Lynley reports on Silicon Valley and the tech industry.

Contact Matthew Lynley at

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