Facebook starts testing targeted ads in News Feed

The company said it is launching a small test which will be later expanded

Facebook has started displaying targeted ads in some users' desktop News Feeds in a test of Facebook Exchange ad delivery system.

"Allowing advertisers to reach people in News Feed is important because people spend more time in News Feed than any other part of Facebook," the company said in a blog post on 26 March announcing the "small alpha test".

Until now, advertisers were able to run standard ads in the right-hand side bar of Facebook on the desktop. Now, they can do the same for ads in the News Feed on the desktop, Facebook said. Advertising changes for mobile clients were not announced.

Targeted ads will be served to users via Facebook Exchange (FBX), a way of advertising on Facebook introduced last fall that shows ads to people based on their browsing interests, Facebook said. "We ... believe that ads delivered through FBX will create more relevant ads for people," the company added.

The introduction of FBX for the desktop news feed will not change the number of ads people see in their feeds, it added.

For the closed alpha test, Facebook works with a small number of advertisers but it will expand News Feed ads to other advertisers "over the coming weeks".

Facebook already faces a legal threat for showing ads in News Feeds in Europe. By placing unsolicited advertisements in users' news feeds the social network could be breaking the European Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, the consumer Ombudsmen of Norway, Sweden and Denmark said in November.

According to that directive, electronic mail for the purposes of direct marketing may only be sent to subscribers in Europe who have given their prior consent, otherwise it's considered spam, according to the Ombudsmen. They wrote a letter to the former European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, to raise the issue. The ombudsmen expected to receive a reply from the Commission early this year, but they are still waiting, Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman Gry Nergard said.

Until the Commission decides if Facebook's News Feed advertising practices fall within the scope of the directive "we have decided not to force them", to do anything, Nergard said. For the time being, the Norwegian Ombudsman asked Facebook to provide an advertising opt-in for users, but Facebook decided not to introduce one, Nergard said. In a letter sent to Facebook on Tuesday Nergard asked the social network "nicely" to introduce an advertising opt-out for users instead.

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