Facebook announces 'Anonymous Login' and 'Audience Network'

The social network revives its developer conference to help app makers boost their bottom lines and give members more control over their information.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
3 min read

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at F8. James Martin/CNET

CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced a new way for Facebook users to log in to third-party apps anonymously -- allowing users of the world's largest social network to keep their identities private while browsing.

"Today, we want to do more to put control and power back into people's hands," Zuckerberg said Wednesday, addressing developers at the company's F8 conference in San Francisco.

For advertisers and app makers looking to turn a profit, the company talked up its "Audience Network," a long-awaited mobile ad network that's now open for registration. For the rest of Facebook's developer audience, the social network promised not to break things anymore, a dramatic switch in its founding motto of "Move fast and break things."

But the biggest news for Facebook's 1.28 billion members is "Anonymous Login," a twist on the standard Facebook Login option that gives people a way to try an app without sharing any of their personal information from the social network. The move addresses concerns about user privacy as Facebook seeks ways to encourage people to explore new apps.

The anonymous log-in button, which is black instead of Facebook's iconic blue, lets members easily log in to applications without a username or password, but without the sometimes unnerving commitment of handing over personal Facebook data to an untrusted source. You can do that a later date if you want, the company says.

log in anonymously facebook button
Soon you can choose to log in to apps anonymously. Facebook

Facebook says it's testing the new log-in option with select developers, including Flipboard. That means you likely won't see the black button in your favorite apps for several months.

The news aligns with one of the event's broader themes around putting people first and giving them more control over their data. Zuckerberg expounded upon this notion of improving trust and getting people more comfortable with using Facebook in conjunction with third-party apps.

ZDNet: Facebook's Zuckerberg: Our approach to development, IT has matured

In the same vein, the social network has remade the standard Facebook Login option so that people can pick and choose, on a line by line basis, what information they share with the applications they use.

Facebook is also hoping to build trust with developers, and Zuckerberg made a number of commitments to this group around the stability and security of creating apps for the social network's platform.

Watch this: Facebook's Zuckerberg reveals new log-in features for apps

"Now we're focused on building a stable mobile platform," Zuckerberg said. The company, he said, wants to build the "cross-platform platform" to help bridge the gaps between mobile operating platforms built by Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Facebook's place in the world is to build a stable mobile bridge across all of these worlds, he said.

As expected, the event shed more light on Audience Network, a mobile ad network that the company has been testing with select clients since January. Facebook opened registration of the Audience Network Wednesday and promised to help app makers make money from their apps with the assistance of its 1 million advertisers.

Facebook's Audience Network ad formats. Facebook

Audience Network lets marketers push their Facebook ads off the social network and into apps who sign up to participate in the network. Advertisers can choose to run banner, interstitial, or native ads off Facebook to encourage app installs and other activities, and they can take advantage of Facebook's usual targeting and measurement tools.

Expectations of a wider rollout have had company watchers salivating over the prospect of additional revenue from Facebook ads running off the network. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandeberg last week cautioned, however, that the company was still in its earliest days and doesn't expect to generate meaningful revenue from the product this year.

Wednesday's developer-themed conference comes a week after the social network proved to Wall Street that its advertising business is healthier than ever. The social network made $2.27 billion from ads in the first quarter of 2014 with 59 percent coming from ads running in the mobile News Feed.

Facebook shares closed Tuesday at $58.15 and we're trading up around 2 percent in advance of Zuckerberg's keynote. There was, however, no meaningful fluctuation in the company's share price immediately following the announcements.