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Nielsen and Facebook say they designed the process in a way that shields people's identities.
"It is all anonymous and privacy-protected," Idell said.
The set-up, as the companies describe it, is somewhat like a double-blind science experiment. The information sent to Facebook, they say, is not the name of the show, but a numerical code. The data sent back to Nielsen are in aggregate so Nielsen doesn't know the identities of any of the Facebook users.
Facebook won't even know what show the code stands for. But Nielsen will learn, for instance, the age and gender breakdowns of the digital audience watching "MasterChef" or "The Bachelorette."
There's a lot at stake. Television advertising is a $65-billion-a-year business. Separately, online video advertising is one of the fastest-growing segments, according to research firm EMarketer. Digital video ad revenue is expected to expand 40% this year to $6 billion.
"Americans are using more devices than ever before to watch video content, and the number of content producers has proliferated," said Lyle Schwartz, a managing partner of the advertising behemoth Group M. "That fragments the audience." On the other hand, "it also gives advertisers the ability to target their messages."
The mobile measurement approach is a continuation of a Facebook-Nielsen partnership that began in 2010, when the companies began collecting data about what online advertisements were being watched in similar fashion from desktops and laptops. But mobile device technology was tougher to deal with, hence the delay. The tracking will work only on devices that have been used to log onto Facebook.
TV networks and advertisers have been pressuring Nielsen to expand its measurement. After all, adoption rates for tablets have been much faster than for other technologies, such as smartphones and digital video recorders.
The first successful tablet computer, the Apple iPad, was introduced in 2010. Now, at least 42% of American adults own tablet computers, up from 34% in September of last year, and nearly none in 2010, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.
Nielsen has honed a reputation for guarding the privacy of its members. "It's in our DNA," Idell said.
And now, for example, when tablet users prepare to watch TV shows on a device by downloading an app that contains an embedded Nielsen "software meter," they would be notified that their views would be counted -- unless they want to opt out.
But Facebook continues to draw criticism for being less than transparent about its privacy policies. The latest storm followed revelations that Facebook conducted an experiment on users without telling them. Facebook researchers adjusted what posts some users saw on their news feeds, and then assessed how the mood of the affected users' posts changed in reaction. (continued...)
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