It appears that Facebook has some imaginary friends. That is, according to industry analyst Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group, who recently called out Facebook for misleading the market on what its actual reach is. According to Facebook’s claims, there are 41 million adults between the ages of 18 and 24. Weiser points out that according to data from the latest U.S. census, there are only 31 million adults in that age group. The same exaggeration in reach also holds true for other groups, including the next most-targeted group of 25 to 34-year-olds.
According to Facebook, reach estimates are based on a number of inputs, including user behaviors, user demographics, location data from devices, and other factors. While Facebook claims that their figures are “not designed to match population or census estimates,” this inflation is likely happening for a simple reason – they do not know which devices belong to which people and, for that matter, which users are actually real.
At the core of this issue is the reliance on falsely declared, so-called “deterministic data.” Despite recent efforts to get its users to supply their real personal data, Facebook is still almost entirely dependent on users to self-report their age, sex, location and other information. There is nothing to stop people from creating fake personas or profiles. And the big question is: how many profiles are fake? Some say as many as 140 million.
This issue is not unique to Facebook. The fallacy of accurate self-identified data is all around us. How many of us of have logged onto the internet at a hotel and put in John@Smith.com? It’s the same when consumers fill out forms with bogus information — fake names and phone numbers and even fake zip codes like 12345.
The effects of false deterministic data can be far-reaching. Deloitte recently released a report, entitled “Predictably inaccurate: The prevalence and perils of bad big data”, which revealed that half of all data on most consumers is inaccurate and one of the main reasons is self-reported data.
These far-reaching claims are just the latest issue for Facebook who has seen its share of bad press for miscalculations, fake news and other worries that have some of the biggest advertisers in the world questioning how much they should spend on the platform. When you are one of the largest digital advertising platforms in the world, you have the responsibility to be accurate.
Facebook, however, reportedly has 20 different third-party audit partners and, in its explanation for the massive discrepancy, rejected the notion it had done anything wrong. But many in the industry are saying that Facebook has real reason to embrace a much greater level of transparency. Facebook is undeniably good at scale, but buyers will call into question scale if they don’t trust the numbers. And it’s incredibly easy to sniff test data to make sure it is accurate. To help address this, Facebook rolled out new brand safety tools at Dmexco in Germany that gives advertisers access to where ads are likely to appear ahead of a campaign, as well as placements bought via its third-party partner, Audience Network.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to sound data. Whether you are a brand advertiser spending money on Facebook or a data processor, everyone will agree that accuracy is the new name of the game. Bad data leads to poor targeting, inflated metrics and wasted media dollars which could easily result in a trust issue that the digital industry simply can’t afford.