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UK urged to regulate how tech giants like Facebook and Google target you with content

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The U.K. should regulate internet platforms like Facebook and Google over their use of online targeting algorithms and force them to share data with researchers, an advisor to the government has said.

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), an advisory body set up by the government in 2018, released a 121-page report on Tuesday calling on London to implement new rules on how social media firms target users with posts, videos and ads. It said a year-long review into the practice found “existing regulation is out of step with the public’s expectations.”

Content-sharing apps like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok all use machine learning algorithms to tailor content to users, based on other posts they’ve interacted with. The CDEI was tasked by the government with looking into the practices of such platforms and putting forward advice on how to regulate artificial intelligence to ensure it’s being deployed ethically.

Research conducted by the CDEI with Ipsos Mori found that internet users generally distrust tech platforms when it comes to targeting, with only 29% of people in the U.K trusting them to target them in a responsible way. It said that 61% of Britons want more regulatory oversight while only 17% support tech platforms regulating themselves.

Britain is expected soon to start cracking down on big tech companies over how they deal with harmful content. Proposals laid out by the government last year would introduce an independent regulator with the ability to potentially slap tech firms with heavy fines and impose liability on senior executives for failing to limit the distribution of such content.

Regulation of social media became a particular priority for the country after the death of U.K. teen Molly Russell, who took her own life in 2017 after watching self-harm material online. Separately, the sharing of a video of the massacre at two New Zealand mosques last year hastened global efforts to curb the dispersion of toxic content and terrorist material online.

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“Most people do not want targeting stopped. But they do want to know that it is being done safely and responsibly. And they want more control,” said CDEI Chair Roger Taylor.

“Tech platforms’ ability to decide what information people see puts them in a position of real power. To build public trust over the long-term it is vital for the Government to ensure that the new online harms regulator looks at how platforms recommend content, establishing robust processes to protect vulnerable people.”

A.I. ethics

Experts have increasingly been urging companies and regulators to bring about frameworks to ensure artificial intelligence is developed ethically. The European Union set out its own guidelines for achieving “trustworthy” AI last year, while tech firms from Google to Microsoft have recently been calling for global rules on the technology.

In its report, the CDEI said it aims to “create the conditions where ethical innovation using data-driven technology can thrive.” It highlighted the potential for AI-based targeting in swaying public opinion — especially among “vulnerable” people — influencing voting behavior and facilitating discrimination as key risks that needed to be addressed by the government.

It echoed a call from the Royal College of Psychiatrists to force tech companies to hand data over to researchers to help them better understand how internet users are impacted by online content. The CDEI said this could help inform research into the possible links between social media usage and declining mental health as well as the spread of fake news.

“We completely agree that there needs to be greater accountability, transparency and control in the online world,” said Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ child and adolescent faculty.

“It is fantastic to see the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation join our call for the regulator to be able to compel social media companies to give independent researchers secure access to their data,” she added.

Political ads

The report also recommended requiring online platforms to make “high-risk” ads available on public archives. Such ads would cover marketing material related to politics, “opportunities” like jobs and housing and age-restricted products.

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While Facebook has gone some way toward increasing transparency in political ads with its Ad Library, the company has so far refused to limit targeting for such posts and has drawn heavy criticism for continuing to allow false claims to appear in them.

Lastly, the report also calls on the government to give people greater control over how they’re targeted with online content. It said there was very little awareness on how such platforms target users, with only 7% of Britons it surveyed saying they expected information on people they interact with online to be used in targeting algorithms.

The use of such algorithms to direct people to certain content on the internet has become particularly controversial in a post-Cambridge Analytica world. Revelations of how the now-defunct political consultancy improperly gained the data of 87 million Facebook users to sway voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election led to a huge privacy scandal that continues to haunt the social media giant.

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5 Effective Ways to Run Facebook Ads A/B Tests

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Facebook Ads A/B Tests or split tests help them try different versions of ads with various campaign elements. This process helps them arrive at the best version for the organization’s target. 

A/B Tests offer a vast pool of resources to try out various versions. You may get caught up and lose your way to arriving at the best version in a limited time. To better understand this topic you can read the Facebook ad testing guide. Here are five effective ways to run Facebook Ads A/B Tests-

1) Start with the minimal number of variables

This approach will help you analyze the impact of a variable much better. The lesser the variables, the better will be the relevant results and more conclusive. Once you have various versions, you will need to run them through the A/B Significance Test to determine if the test results are valid.

2) The second way is to select the correct structure. 

There are two structures in A/B tests. One is a single ad test, and the other is multiple single variation ad sets. All the variations will go under one ad set in the first structure. Each variation will be under a separate ad set in the second one. Out of the two, the second one works out to be better and gives better results.

3) Use of spreadsheets is important to stay organized. 

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These spreadsheets help collect and analyze data to get meaningful insights and arrive at data-backed decisions.

4) Do target advertising and set realistic time goals. 

One approach is to choose an entirely new set of audiences. Also, the data pool should be vast and not the same as some existing campaigns. The reason for choosing a different audience is that Facebook may mix up your ads and give contaminated output. 

Another approach to choosing the right audience is to pick geography. It works better, especially when you have business in a particular region.   

It’s also essential to set a realistic timeline for your testing. Facebook suggests one should run a test for at least four days, but you can choose to run the test for up to 30 days.   

5) Set an ideal budget. 

The concept of a perfect budget is subjective. But, you can fix it yourself, or Facebook can do that for you based on your testing data. A large part of the test budget is spent on avoiding audience duplication. If the same audience sees variations, it could affect the test results.

Besides these top five effective ideas, you will need to take a few more action points to make the testing process efficient. Make sure you put the website’s domain link and not the landing page link in the ad, as that doesn’t look good. Put appropriate Call To Action Button, such as ‘Learn More,’ ‘Buy Now,’ etc. It’s also important to see how your ad is coming across on various electronic gadgets- mobile, tablets, etc.

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Another strategy that works is trying to engage the customer. You may add social engagement buttons such as ‘Like’ or ‘Comment.’ Use high-resolution images as they work better with the customers. Low-quality, highly edited images are often not liked and trusted by the consumers.

You can learn more about the audience behavior patterns with A/B test results. Conducting these tests on Facebook streamlines the entire process and makes it smooth for you. With the test results, advertisers and marketers can work on the creatives they need to utilize.

To sum it up, you can run an effective A/B test campaign within the specified budget. You don’t need to spend massive amounts to get your advertisement right. You’ll make the correct assumptions about the performance of variations with a good understanding of business and consumers.

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