Facebook has confirmed that next week it will roll out ad targeting that uses email addresses, phone numbers and game and app developers' user IDs to larger advertisers, who will work directly with a Facebook sales representative.
"Facebook may soon allow ad targeting by email, user ID and phone number," a spokesperson confirmed.
In a glitch first reported on by Inside Facebook, the new targeting option temporarily appeared in Facebook's Power Editor tool today prior to its official release. Facebook had been planning to roll this out next week, but the glitch caught the social network by surprise, and caused a scramble to explain how it works.
Facebook, of course, says it can achieve this without violating user privacy, or spilling personal information.
The company says it will protect consumer information -- email addresses, user IDs and phone numbers -- through a process it calls "hashing," which allows the user data to be matched without allowing Facebook user data to be intelligible to advertisers, or advertiser data intelligible to Facebook. "Any personally identifying information will be hashed before being uploaded to Facebook," according to a disclosure on the tool.
While questions about privacy will invariably (and loudly) be raised, Facebook insists that all either side will be able to ascertain is the number of customers on a given list of emails, phone numbers and user IDs who are also Facebook users, according a spokeswoman.
Marketers have long grumbled about the fact that they have no way of bringing their customer data inside Facebook's walled garden, but the new ad targeting gives them the ability to market to Facebook users who have already purchased products from them. For example, a game developer like Zynga could hypothetically take its collection of user IDs and market to players of its past games when rolling out a new game. Or a retailer could take its collection of emails to target ads about an upcoming sale to Facebook users who are established customers.
Facebook declined to say which advertisers and how many of them had participated in beta testing in recent weeks. Addresses will also be added to the targeting offering, according to a spokeswoman.