Apr 21, 2014 · 4 minutes

Facebook is expected to announce a long overdue mobile ad network at its F8 developer conference later this month, according to a Re/code report. The company introduced ads into its own app in 2012 -- now it's ready to power the ads that will appear in other apps, too.

The mobile advertising market has seen increased competition in the last few months. Google has been expanding its AdMob platform, and Twitter recently announced an expansion to its MoPub advertising network to offer mobile install advertising to developers. (Facebook has offered its own mobile install network through the main Facebook app since the end of 2012.)

The ad network will allow marketers to target consumers based on information gleaned from their Facebook profiles. Re/code reports that it started as a two-person project that has since become an important aspect of the company's advertising ambitions. It was initially delayed by the lack of ads in Facebook's main app -- now it's ready to expand the company's advertising ambitions.

The news follows the release of Nearby Friends, a new tool that allows Facebook users to share their location with a small group of friends. The feature differs from most Facebook tools in that it isn't focused on public sharing with large groups of people. But in any case, it's yet another Facebook service that will allow the company to gather even more information about its users.

It makes sense for Facebook to release a new location-based feature shortly before announcing an advertising network. It won't be enough for the company to offer ads tailored to its users' Likes -- it will also have to offer more information than it can glean through its website, and announcing a new location service that pretends to value privacy while simultaneously sending more information to the data-vacuuming Facebook mothership could allow it to do just that.

Facebook might have finally learned how to help its users keep some information private, but it's still monitoring everything it can and selling the data to whoever is willing to pay for it. The company knows what you Like, who you talk to, and where you are at every moment. That data has helped the company serve ads in its own app -- now it can do the same in others, too.

Pando weighs in

I wrote about Facebook's attempts to gather information after it announced the Graph Search tool:

You’ve gotta give Facebook credit for its relentless drive to harvest and exploit the data of its billion users. Facebook knows where you are, where you’re from, the places you Like, the people you know, and what you’re interested in — as soon as it makes its way to wearable computers it’ll probably know when you’re sleeping or awake, like a technologically twisted version of Santa Claus. The company is making some of that data easier to discover with Graph Search, a social search tool that will begin rolling out to all US-based Facebook users today.
Then I wrote about its privacy-invading abilities after its drone ambitions were revealed:
Facebook has a checkered history with privacy. The company riled some users by introducing features like the News Feed, the now-defunct Beacon advertising platform, and placing profile photos in advertisements for products these users had no intention of endorsing. Nearly half of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s posts on the company’s blog involve his apologizing for some product change or privacy scandal or another. 

That’s what the company has done with information gleaned through a Web browser. Now imagine what a privacy scandal could look like when that data was scooped up via drones.

Maybe the company could use aerial imagery to see that the paint on top of someone’s car has started to peel, a perfect opportunity for an auto shop to advertise its painting service. Perhaps it could monitor the users accessing its networks and determine who is spending time with whom without either of them ever mentioning it on Facebook. Then the company could use its vast databases to figure out that this person is spending more time with someone who isn’t his wife and use that information to advertise chocolates and lipstick remover. (It could also display an ad for a private investigator to the user’s wife — coincidentally, of course.) James Robinson wrote about Facebook's mobile install ads after Twitter's own efforts were announced:

Twitter made it official this morning that it will be launching app install ads through its MoPub mobile ad marketplace. With considerable enthusiasm, the announcement talked up the creative and measurement tools available to developers in this new offering. Twitter users will even be able to download the app directly from their Timeline. Boy howdy!

The announcement of course doesn’t credit Facebook, but it’s a completely Xeroxed product offering. Mobile app install ads have been a bonanza for Facebook. Launched at the end of 2012, they spurred 245 million app downloads in 2013Mark Zuckerberg has said the ads were one of the best things Facebook did last year. After its disastrous IPO, mobile app install ads were the product that gave Facebook its mobile advertising mojo back. [Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]