Meta’s Alvin Bowles: ‘Personalization And Privacy Don’t Have To Be At Odds’

Alvin Bowles, VP of business ecosystem partnerships, Meta

Alvin Bowles is a facilitator.

As Meta’s VP of business ecosystem partnerships, it’s his responsibility to oversee everything from how Meta’s own academic research informs business development to striking partnership deals with monetization and even metaverse-related partners.

The best way to think of his team, Bowles said, is as “a single entry point” for businesses, agencies and developers to partner with Meta.

“We focus on decreasing the friction for how individuals use our platform,” Bowles said. “My job is to work with anyone who can make it easier to do that.”

But friction is increasingly the name of the game, especially as other platforms (see Apple and Google) reel back access to individual-level data.

“The best way for us to deal with this is not to complain,” Bowles said, “but to partner with the ecosystem.”

Bowles spoke with AdExchanger about the metaverse, Facebook haters, the $10 billion in revenue set to evaporate due to Apple ATT and the rise of TikTok.

AdExchanger: I’m a metaverse skeptic, but Meta is obviously making a very big bet here. Why is the metaverse not just a buzzword?

ALVIN BOWLES: Over the next decade, we believe the metaverse will reach more than a billion people, see billions of dollars in digital commerce and support jobs for millions of creators and developers. In its purest form, the metaverse will blur the lines between real-life experiences and ones that have no boundaries. If I want to visit the Eiffel Tower and I can’t get there physically, can the metaverse provide me with an immersive experience?

This is an opportunity to dream bigger. Maybe it’s hard to imagine, but I’m old enough to remember when there was no internet. There were no email addresses. I mean, I didn’t get one until my senior year in college.

Why should people trust Facebook to lead this charge into the metaverse?

For the first time, we’ve been breaking out our investment into the Facebook Reality Labs business. This level of transparency shows that what we’re doing is not a ploy and certainly not a marketing initiative. I won’t even call it a pivot, but rather a true extension of what we’ve always done as a business.

We’ve had a lot of constructive feedback about our brand and our policies over the years, but we’ve always focused on aligning our rhetoric with our actions. Sometimes those things don’t meet with everybody’s approval, but we’re not necessarily here to please everyone.

Why do you think there’s so much skepticism today anytime Facebook, and now Meta, makes a move?

When you’re this large, you become ubiquitous, and the moves you make get overly scrutinized – but I think it’s fair for us to be scrutinized. We’ve earned the right to be at the center of this, but we also have a responsibility.

There’s been a lot of talk about the motivation behind changing our name, but this is not about running away from our past. Our business model is the same. We’re an advertising-driven platform focused on free products and the democratization of storytelling. Maybe that sounds hokey, but it’s true.

We want to bring the entire ecosystem along with us, which is why we’re investing in our partnership platform to build what the metaverse will be. There are going to be a ton of different metaverses, not just ours.

Back to today’s reality, what is Meta doing to mitigate signal loss? You’re expecting a $10 billion hit to sales this year from Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework alone.

We recently collaborated with Mozilla on a proposed web standard at the W3C to enable private aggregated attribution. We need to create a safeguard against browsers and OS owners unilaterally imposing restrictions that concentrate control. Smaller businesses are in the hands of the platform owners.

We’re also focusing on aggregated events measurement. If you invest $1 in our platform, you should be able to expect an outcome. Rebuilding our ads optimization via machine learning helps us help businesses get bottom-of-the-funnel transactions.

Personalization and privacy don’t have to be at odds.

Many businesses, particularly small businesses, have been hurt by some of these changes, especially on iOS, and not just on our platform. This is not just about us. It’s about being able to deliver outcomes across the board and not necessarily having the signals you need.

Commerce is becoming even more important for Meta in light of signal loss. What are you doing to get people to buy more stuff on Facebook and Instagram?

Over the past couple of years, the pandemic accelerated a lot of innovation across the commerce landscape, including our launch of Shops.

The shift to social shopping is not temporary. We call it discovery commerce, where people see things that are based on their preferences, including from Black- and women-owned businesses.

We have live shopping, we do product tags and drops that allow people to buy from the creators and brands they love, and we’re focused on creating a more personalized customer journey: from deciding to buy to payment to having it arrive on your doorstep.

Creators help facilitate commerce for you, but they also need to get paid themselves. Meta has been rolling out monetization tools for new surfaces, like Reels, but what are you doing to make sure the payouts to creators are fair from an equity and diversity point of view?

Our Reels Play Bonus program, which is part of our billion-dollar creator investment, pays eligible creators up to $35,000 a month based on views for qualifying Reels. This helps creators fund their Reels and helps us better understand what types of content work on the platform.

But we also have strategic partnerships and teams that focus on making sure there’s equity in terms of who gets access to those programs, so that it’s not just one specific type of individual. We have pilot programs for underrepresented BIPOC creators that we’ve kept close to the vest.

We can’t talk about creators without talking about TikTok. How big of a competitor is TikTok, really?

They’re a significant competitor. Just look at the rise in short-form content sparked by how pervasively individuals are using their platform. It’s easy to use, and people are excited by the notion of self-expression.

Brands are very interested in figuring out how to capture the attention generated by creators, and it’s an opportunity for us to learn.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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