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These Are Facebook’s Latest Plans to Make Online Ads ‘More Transparent’

June 28, 2018, 6:32 PM UTC

Facebook’s latest step to make amends over its recent data privacy blunders involves making online ads more “transparent” to its users.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said Thursday during a press event that people will now be able to see all of the ads that businesses and organizations run on the social network, Instagram, and Messenger app regardless if those ads did not specifically target a particular demographic.

Now, when a person visits a Facebook Page — which is the public profile for companies, celebrities, and other non-consumers — they will be able to see a list of all of the advertisements that are associated with the Page.

Additionally, people will be able to see a detailed account of any changes that were made on the Page, like when it was created and if there have been any updates to the Page’s name. Facebook has been testing the new ad transparency features for an unspecific amount of time in Canada, said Rob Leathern, a Facebook director of product management on the advertisement team.

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The decision to debut new ad transparency features comes amid the company’s recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which an academic violated Facebook’s policies by selling user data to a political firm. The company has also been under fire for its failure to prevent Russian trolls from buying online ads and showing propaganda in prelude to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Sandberg pitched the new features as one of many updates that represent “a really big shift at Facebook.” Like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously said multiple times, Facebook has “under-invested in prevention” and is now attempting to rectify past errors, she said.

Facebook’s “ultimate goal,” Sandberg said, is to “reduce bad ads.”

Sandberg said that while some businesses were concerned because it’s now “easy for their competitors to see the kinds of ads” they’re running on Facebook and its related services, “the majority of them were very postive and were understanding of why we want the platform to be more transparent.”

“We want to make sure that people understand what they’re seeing,” Sandberg said. But, she added that “I want to be really clear, that the great majority of people building ads are run by legitimate organizations.”

Facebook users will also be able to flag online advertisements that they believe violate Facebook’s rules, and then a combination of human workers and artificial intelligence technologies will further screen the ads, Leathern said.

The online ads feature follows Facebook’s creation of a public database in May intended to contain online Facebook ads run by political campaigns as well as information like how well did those political ads do when shown to certain demographics. Facebook also recently debuted new rules that made it more difficult for political firms and other organizations to quickly run their advertisements because of the company’s now-longer review times.

Sandberg conceded that Facebook received complaints from politicians that the lengthier advertising review times prevented their ads from running during crucial periods of their political campaigns.

“We do not like the delays in the system,” Sandberg said. That said, the delays are “going to happen” and are “part of the cost of the checks and balancers we are putting into the system.”

“No one likes the delays, they don’t particularly like them when [it affects] them,” she said.