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Facebook will count one person as two on its platform

The most dangerous Facebook changes are hidden behind obscure press releases.

This one was no different. Last week, Facebook published a a news release titled: "An Update on How We Count People For Ads Planning and Measurement"

Here's the the gist of the article (quoted from the news release):

Starting today, if someone does not have their Facebook and Instagram accounts linked in Accounts Center, we will consider those accounts as separate people for ads planning and measurement.

Essentially, Facebook will count one person as two on its platform for advertisers, unless the users have explicitly linked their accounts in "Account Center".

How many people have linked their accounts in Account Center?

This is the tricky part, which Facebook didn't reveal.

The history of "Account Center": Facebook released Account Center On September 29, 2020 and made it globally available on November 18, 2020. Yup, "Account Center" has been around for only about a year.

"Account Center" should be available under Settings on Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp. Except that it's not (for everyone).

I couldn't find it anywhere on my Instagram account. I did some research and found this Facebook page, which states:

Accounts Centre is being tested and may change in the future. It isn't available to everyone at this time and is only available on Android and iPhone apps.

That's for Instagram. What about Facebook? Similar information appears under the "Help Page" for Facebook:

Accounts Centre is being tested and may change in the future. It is only available on Android and iPhone apps.

Based on "Account Center" history and availability, it's safe to assume that the % of people who linked their Facebook/Instagram accounts under "Account Center" is in the single or low double-digits. If it was high enough, Facebook would brag about it, rathen than making generic statements like these:

...advertisers may see an impact to campaign planning estimates and performance reporting for unique metrics. There will be increases in pre-campaign estimates such as estimated audience size, but for most campaigns we do not believe this will have a substantial impact on reported campaign reach.

Personally, I find it hard believe Facebook when they begin a sentence with "we do (not) believe". We've all seen how that has turned out in the past.

How things were prior to this change

According to Facebook (emphasis mine):

Previously, we counted someone with multiple accounts as one person for ads purposes if they linked their Facebook and Instagram accounts via those apps, or if we believed that the accounts were owned by the same person. For example, if someone used the same email address across their Facebook and Instagram accounts or accessed both platforms from the same device, we counted them as one person when they interacted with ads.

Why is Facebook removing this? Apparently, to "honor" its users:

Now, we are using this setting to determine how people may want their accounts connected or unconnected, and we will honor the choices that are selected for ads planning and measurement purposes.

Something is fishy here. Facebook seems to err on the side of "respecting users' choice" only when it's within their own financial interest.

Which brings me to the last part...

The implication of this change

First of all, understand that when you advertise on Facebook, you are reaching accounts, not people. Since this change, this has never been more true.

With this Facebook counting update, we may see advertisers misled in many ways, such as thinking they're reaching more people than they are if they look at their unique link clicks metrics.

If only a small percentage of your target audience has linked their accounts, when you run Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns, you'll (falsely) see that you're reaching double the number of "people" (i.e. accounts). After all, Facebook will count that one person as two, if your ad shows both on Facebook and Instagram.

It makes sense for Facebook: This makes sense (from a financial perspective) for Facebook, as the the company warned investors that Apple's privacy changes will have a significant impact on Facebook's bottom line. So it makes sense for the company to do everything (moral and immoral) in their power to keep their numbers up.

What you can do about this as an indie hacker

Facebook/Instagram ad prices are already skyrocketing due to Apple's update.

Fortunately, there are new channels that are emerging and some founders already started having success with them. These recent interviews I did on using TikTok influencers to grow a SaaS and using Reddit outreach are just some examples.

Decentralized social networking is also on the way, according to people like Naval, and is just waitnig for its Satoshi moment.

Btw, if you want more founder opportunities like these delivered to your inbox every week, feel free to subscribe below:

  1. 2

    The thing about advertising is there's already a ton of waste and fraud, but this surprisingly doesn't affect things much. Some businesses will experiment with ads, fail, and move on to other channels. Others will see their ad experiments work, despite the waste, and continue to invest more.

    If there is additional fraud and waste, then that just means either the price of ads will come down until they're worth it again, or more efficient businesses will spring up who can profitably pay for these ads.

  2. 2

    I've been saying this for a long time. "Accounts" != "people". This will be devastating for advertisers in the long run.

    1. 1

      Not sure about the "devastating" part but yeah, it would be bad. You've always reached "accounts", not "people" on most platforms. It's just how good of a job the platform did to "merge" these accounts into 1 person.

      I find it hard to believe Facebook (after these privacy scandals) that they would suddenly start caring for users' privacy and make it the sole purpose of this update. There's a level of self-interest in this change.

  3. 1

    This post reminds me of a very bad experience I have had with Facebook where sometimes I get the impression that they are doing everything they can to lose their users and business partners. I have faced a lot of issues to validate my business on their platform even though I have provided all required documents and every time they refuse my application, they never provided a reason for doing so.

  4. 1

    Interesting, this makes sense for me as I didn't even consider before that advertising on Instagram vs Facebook could allow targeting of the same person across platforms.

  5. 1

    Pretty interesting, the most important info is "hidden" in the middle of the press release. Also, no mainstream media outlet covered this.

    1. 1

      Yup, hard to overlook if you don't read it carefully.

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