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As a result of working closer with brands to fix its unappealing advertising strategy, Facebook has realized that "likes" aren't good enough. Before its IPO mess, subsequent stock tumble, less than exciting earnings report, and more stock tumbling, Facebook's big money-maker of an idea involved getting advertisers to pay money for ads that would get their brands more "likes," which would theoretically lead to more engagement and sales. However, advertisers now say that isn't working for them. "The investment doesn't translate to ROI [return on investment],"  Sav Banerjee, executive social strategy director at New York digital-ad agency Rokkan Inc told The Wall Street Journal's Shayndi Raice. The strategy works, to a degree: the companies who pay for more ads do see more likes. But those clicks of approval don't lead to more of anything else that the advertisers want (like sales). A recent BBC report came to the same conclusion of the illusory value of Facebook's like button, attributing massive "liking" to robots. But Facebook hasn't given up, and it's working with its ad partners to give them something that does provide a return on investment. That something just happens to be your data.

Advertisers have told the social network that what Facebook has given them doesn't provide enough information to track if their ads result in sales. For example, companies don't like that the social network doesn't let them see wall conversations, something Facebook doesn't do because it would infringe on user privacy. Yet, it sounds like pressure from advertisers plus pressure to keep its stock from tanking and pressure prove its worth as a valuable company have changed attitudes about what information the social network has decided doesn't need protection. "Facebook is now considering giving advertisers a sliver of data from conversations," writes Raice. "For example, Facebook would tell advertisers how many people are talking about their brand, the top things they are saying and those people's demographics," she continues. The company has already updated its tracking processes to break down who has seen ads by region, a more specific breakdown than it gave before.

The big caveat to all of this is that Facebook has said that it will give away these bits of information "but not violate privacy policies by revealing information about individual people," writes Raice. That's not too encouraging, as Facebook could up and change its privacy policy to fit its new standards. It has done that many times before -- eight times in two years -- as this handy timeline shows. All that tweaking often confuses users as to what actions Facebook can hand over to companies, while giving Facebook more leeway. Now that the company has public company obligations, we imagine these advertiser wants will trump a flimsy privacy policy.

But, there is one thing users hold over advertisers: Ultimately, for Facebook, the people are the product.  Handing over data might suffice advertisers, but that's the kind of stuff that scares Facebookers, who could quit the network, pulling their precious data off the grid. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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