Facebook’s Access to Instagram Data Could Uncrack Images for Ad Targeting

Photo sharing service updates privacy policy

Instagram announced pending updates to its privacy policy today. The headlining change is that the photo-sharing service will now share user data with its new parent, Facebook. That means that advertisers should soon be able to take advantage of Instagram’s data to target ads on the social network.

While an Instagram spokesperson said the company has “no current plans to share” how the Instagram data could be integrated into Facebook’s ad targeting options, the possibilities are fairly obvious. At the most basic level, Instagram will feed Facebook data like users’ locations (when shared) and device information. A step up from there, Facebook could crunch through Instagram users’ follower and following lists, hashtags they append to their Instagram photos and photos they view, favorite and comment on. But even that’s fairly rudimentary when considering the possibilities of melding Instagram with another company Facebook bought this year.

When Facebook picked up facial recognition startup Face.com in June, the deal was seen as a move by Facebook to make it easier for users to tag friends in photos by detecting whose mug was in a given image. That could still be the case, but a move with an even bigger upside could be using Face.com’s technology to detect all the metadata in a photo, converting images in ad-targeting signals. For instance, Facebook could recognize that a given user posts a lot of pictures with Starbucks cups and bucket that user into an interest pool for Starbucks and its competitors like Coffee Bean or Dunkin' Donuts to target with ads.

Companies like Luminate are already chasing images’ metadata, and Google seems to be doing the same via its Google Goggles product. But Facebook—coupled with Instagram—could have perhaps the best shot at making images as easy to dissect as text, given the quantity of images the social network can access. As of September, Facebook had more than 219 billion photos on its site, and Instagram users had uploaded 5 billion photos. How Facebook-Instagram’s image trove (and progress in digesting the content) stacks up with Google’s is hard to parse—as of 2010, Google had indexed more than 10 billion photos—but the Facebook-Instagram photos may be more useful for ad targeting because they’re appended with social/interest signals.

Beyond ad targeting, Instagram’s privacy policy would permit the service to run ads, but that’s nothing new. Instagram’s privacy policy previously included language that would open up the service to advertisers, though it famously has yet to do so. However, a proposed change to Instagram’s terms of use is more blatant. “Some or all of the [service] may be support [sic] by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with associated metadata) and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you,” the document reads.

Said the Instagram spokesperson: “As we've said in the past, we are continuing to evaluate when, how, and in what form advertising inside Instagram plays a role in creating value for users and brands alike.”