When Facebook users check out the new television show lineup this fall on their smartphone or tablet, the social network will be watching too. In a partnership with Nielsen, the TV ratings measurement company, if users have used Facebook on their mobile devices, the social network will be able to gather data on the shows they watch and provide Nielsen with viewership information.
Historically, Nielsen measurements were done through the installation of special meters on 25,000 television sets, recording a household's television habits. However, the increasing use of computers, smartphones and tablets to watch television shows meant that Nielsen wasn't getting a complete sense of viewing habits.
Partnering with Facebook, the new campaign is meant to give Nielsen a better idea of how people are using their devices to watch shows. The arrangement, initially announced in 2013, may be getting renewed attention because of Facebook's recent admission that it had manipulated users' emotions in an experiment on their News Feeds.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Nielsen assured the data would be anonymous and privacy-protected. Nielsen will collecting only the ages and genders of online viewers watching a show from aggregated data, without knowing the identity of any individuals. Facebook will see only code numbers from Nielsen and will not be told which shows they stand for.
Still, this "double-blind" approach isn't enough, say privacy advocates. Facebook users are not fully being made aware of how their non-Facebook activity is being put to use, Julia Horwitz, a consumer protections counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the newspaper.
The data collected by Facebook will not be used to influence online advertising that's displayed on the website, the social network assured the readers at Digital Trends.
"We have worked with Nielsen under strong privacy principles. We don't believe that audience measurement systems should be used to adjust targeting; they should only be used for measurement," a Facebook spokesperson told the site. "This protects the privacy of people viewing ads and ensures that both advertisers and publishers have the same information about the audiences."
Facebook did not reply to CBS News' requests for comment.
With this latest in a string of partnerships, Nielsen is trying to get a better sense of Internet users' online viewing habits. The company partnered with YouTube in 2013 -- putting what they called "online campaign ratings" on some ads, according to CNET. The partnership was later extended to include DoubleClick, Google's online ad firm, creating opportunities for YouTube stars to make even more money by allowing them access to a larger pool of advertisers.
In 2012, Nielsen also created the "Nielsen Twitter TV Rating," which helps measure the engagement of television programming on Twitter.