Some time this year, Facebook will max out the number of ads it can squeeze into people’s news feeds. But how many ads is Facebook already inserting?
To get a better idea, I’ve built an extension for Google’s Chrome browser, called Facebook Ad Spotter, that tracks the number of ads and organic posts appearing in Facebook’s desktop news feed. You can use the extension to highlight the ads as you scroll through your feed, see the ratio of ads to organic posts and share your anonymous ad load stats to a database that I’ll be using to calculate Facebook’s average desktop ad load. You can install the extension through this link to the Chrome Web Store.
After installing the extension and scrolling through your Facebook news feed, you can click on the extension’s icon to open a pop-up window that will show the average ratio of ads to organic posts plus the total number of ads and organic posts. You can also see a listing of each ad, including the advertiser’s name and at what position in the news feed that ad was placed (though sometimes there’s a delay between when an ad appears and when Facebook updates its positioning information).
How you can help us crowdsource Facebook’s desktop ad load
You can use the extension for your own curiosity, but hopefully, you’ll be willing to share the stats that the extension records about your Facebook ad load. If you’re comfortable passing along the information shown for the ad-to-post ratio, total number of ads and total number of organic posts — and only that information — you can click the submit button that appears in the extension’s pop-up window. The button will appear once at least two ads have been displayed in the news feed. After you submit once, you can submit again once at least one new ad has been added to the feed.
Clicking the extension’s submit button will send those stats to a database that I will use to calculate the average ratio of ads to organic posts across everyone who opts to share that data through the extension. I plan to share the average stat in an article after enough data has been submitted over a sufficient period of time; hopefully, that will be around a month from now. The extension is only available in the US to maintain the integrity of that data, since Facebook ad loads may vary by country or region.
What information the extension does not collect
If you’re worried about privacy, I hear you. You don’t want the extension snooping on your Facebook browsing; neither do I. So it doesn’t. The extension does not collect any personal information. It doesn’t look for your name, who your friends are, the comment you left on your cousin’s baby photo or that you spent 20 minutes watching a live video featuring paint drying. And it only works when you’re on Facebook’s site. For example, if you’re on this site and click the extension, you’ll see a message telling you to visit Facebook.
What information the extension does collect
The extension looks at the posts appearing in your feeds, sifts out the ones that are ads and then collects the name of the advertiser and where exactly the post appeared in your feed, provided that information is made available by Facebook.
How the extension works behind the scenes
Once on Facebook’s site, the extension only starts working once you start scrolling through your news feed. As you scroll, the extension will look at the page’s HTML code to identify the elements on the page that are news feed posts and add those posts to a total-posts list that does not leave your browser and is erased each time you reload Facebook. Then it will look at the HTML code for each post in the total-posts list to determine if a post is an ad. If it is, then that ad will be added to a separate ads-only list that also does not leave your browser and is erased each time you reload Facebook.
For each ad in the ads-only list, the extension will check if the ad’s HTML code includes the name of the advertiser and the ad’s position in the news feed. That name-and-position data will be added to a new ads-only list, and the old ads-only list — which contained all the HTML code — will be scrapped. The total-posts list will also be scrapped after deriving the number of posts in that list.
After all that list-making, here is the information that gets sent to the extension’s pop-up window: the number of posts in the total-posts list and the new, stripped-down ads-only list. And, if you volunteer to send your ad load data to the database, here is the only information that’s eligible to leave your browser: the number of organic posts, the number of ads and the number calculated by dividing the number of organic posts by the number of ads. Those three numbers alone are sent to the database, and nothing else.
If you have any questions or concerns about the extension or run into any issues while using it, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.