Facebook to Serve Ads to Non-Users Through Its Audience Network

Also Expands Options for Users and Non-Users to Opt Out of Interest-Based Ads

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Facebook is expanding its Audience Network, which serves ads on apps and websites beyond its own, to reach people who don't have Facebook accounts or aren't signed in.

Previously, Facebook Audience Network could only serve ads to signed-in Facebook users. That played well enough to one of Facebook's strengths with marketers: It knows exactly who is seeing its ads, on its properties or elsewhere, and an awful lot about them.

But Facebook was still getting valuable information about non-users whenever they visited sites with Facebook technology -- think of the "Like" button around the web -- without being able to capitalize.

The move to change that is a direct shot at Google's AdSense network, not to mention all the other players observing and targeting consumers.

Facebook argued that it can do a better job than the competition. "Because we understand people in general, we can still use all the things we've learned about people-based marketing to apply and show them a relevant ad based on what information we do have," said Andrew Bosworth, VP of ads and business platform at Facebook. "I think that is a huge competitive advantage relative to the hundreds of other companies doing this kind of work."

Although Facebook knows the most about its users, the price to reach people without Facebook accounts won't be any cheaper, at least for now. "We won't know until the market develops," Mr. Bosworth said.

If the company can't get enough worthwhile information about a non-user, it won't include them in its Audience Network, he added.

And while Facebook Audience Network is only two years old, advertisers' spending there in the fourth quarter was equivalent to $1 billion a year, the company has said, although the bulk of that is passed on to publishers that actually display the ads.

Separately, both Facebook and non-Facebook users will now be able to opt out of seeing interest-based ads through the Audience Network, Facebook said. That doesn't mean Facebook won't serve ads to them, but it won't base those ads on their activity or interests.

"One of the things we've heard from people is that many of the ads they see are annoying, distracting, or misleading," Mr. Bosworth said. "We think companies can do better, and that's why we've been focused on improving ads both on and off Facebook."