For Facebook, Gathering User Data Trumps UX

Who was the brave soul that proposed this full screen app takeover to Facebook's executive team?
It is interruptive.  It creates no immediate user value.  Worst of all, it asks users to abandon the Facebook app.
It also happens to unlock some incredibly valuable data.

Fragmented Mobile Identity

Mobile devices have a somewhat strange split identity.  Content (advertising or otherwise) that is delivered in a native app is targeted based on a device ID -- IDFA for iOS devices and Android ID for Android devices.  But content that is delivered in a mobile web browser is targeted based on a cookie ID.  You might be user 123 in your Facebook app and user 456 in your Safari browser.  To create a seamless content experience across apps and the web, companies must know both of these IDs, and very few companies do.

Facebook is attempting to solve this identity problem by proactively asking users to log into both Facebook's app and Facebook's mobile website.  If a Facebook user logs in as both device 123 and cookie 456, Facebook gains a data asset that very few competitors can replicate.

The Value of Unified Mobile Identity

Unifying app and web identity unlocks three highly valuable capabilities for Facebook:

  1. On-Site Advertising: Facebook can use your website browsing history to inform the ads you see in your Facebook Newsfeed.  Every website that has a Like button or uses Facebook Connect generates URL-level page view information that can inform your Facebook profile.  When you spend an afternoon visiting websites about site-seeing in Munich, Facebook can classify you as a European vacation traveler.  Don't be surprised to see a Hilton ad in your Newsfeed.
  2. Off-Site Advertising: Facebook can deliver ads across the web based on your Facebook profile.  All of your likes and shares and comments and posts on Facebook are gold to marketers, and Facebook has built a multi-billion dollar business by allowing brands to deliver ads to consumers based on this data.  By signing into Facebook on your mobile browser, you create an identity bridge that allows Facebook to deliver targeted ads across a huge new swath of programmatic inventory.  That's good for Facebook Audience Network and great for Facebook's ready-any-day-now DSP.
  3. Probabilistic Identity Modeling: Facebook can leverage your web browsing behavior to construct a high fidelity probabilistic device graph.  Facebook is the king of deterministic device matching, but even the king has blind spots.  To deliver the omni-channel marketing dream, Facebook will likely need to augment its deterministic identity data with a probabilistic matching model, and tracking user behavior across the web will greatly enhance Facebook's ability to predict identity matches for non-logged-in devices.  Knowing the websites you visit on your smartphone helps Facebook predict whether that smart TV belongs to you or your neighbor.

Not Just Any Cookie, A 1st Party Cookie

This whole multi-login concept is interesting for mobile web browsers in general, but it's especially interesting for Safari, which rejects third party cookies by default.  Safari's cookie rejection policy means that most ad tech companies are unable to execute audience tracking and audience targeting within Safari browsers.  It is the reason why most mobile web ads feel irrelevant to users, and the reason mobile web monetization is so poor for most publishers.

By signing into Facebook within Safari, you grant Facebook first party cookie status, giving the company a distinct advertising advantage over its ad tech competitors.  In a context in which most ad tech companies are totally unable to deliver targeted ads, Facebook can execute cross-screen targeting based on the full record of your digital history.

Don't Hate The Player

No doubt Facebook is committed to a first class user experience.  But some data is just too valuable to pass up.  Facebook is choosing to interrupt its user experience in order to build its identity data assets.

How many other executive teams have had this data vs. UX debate?  Whether you love the decision or hate the decision, give Facebook credit for grappling with issues that aren't even on the radar for most companies.  Facebook is playing the ad tech game at a different level.