When do GIFs stop being funny?

Here's a question - Why did Facebook acquire GIF making service Giphy for $400m?

a) To help "people find just the right way to express themselves." Or,

b) To better understand user behaviour in its own apps, and beyond, and ultimately enhance its ad-tracking capabilities across GIPHY's 700m daily active users

Well, answer 'a' is from Facebook's official blog, but answer 'b' reflects the consensus of opinion amongst technology journalists.

With nearly three quarters of a billion people viewing Giphy content each day across some of the internet's most popular apps, Facebook is buying access to rich and varied data and insights (Owen Williams does a great job of extrapolating the potential in his blog post here).

Each time a user sends a GIF, Giphy (now Facebook):

  • Tracks how and where the image is being shared;
  • Tracks the sentiment of the image;
  • Drops a tracking identifier to record your internet activity; and
  • Tracks keystrokes when searching the GIF library.

At a time when traditional mechanisms for tracking are under threat (such as the 3rd party cookie), Giphy gives Facebook another route to understand user behaviour across the internet inside and outside of apps. So, while the battle against the Facebook tracking pixel may be ongoing, the war against Facebook monitoring your internet usage, regardless of wether you have a Facebook account, continues.

Taking a broader view, strategic acquisition of Giphy grinds against the wider privacy narrative that Facebook has been pushing.

It's worth remembering that Cambridge Analytica was enabled by the free flow of data between Facebook and 3rd party apps in the pursuit of increasingly detailed and accurate audience segmentation. In a blog post from 2019 setting out Facebook's privacy-centric vision of the future, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that:

"Many people don't think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform -- because frankly we don't currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services."

Zuckerberg is right, many people continue not to believe that Facebook is willing or able to build a privacy-focussed platform. Acquiring Giphy is just another reminder of this.

Finally, in case you think that this is only Facebook problem, Google bought GIF platform Tenor in 2018...

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