Politicians are calling for social networks to help fight the spread of terrorism.
Politicians are calling for social networks to help fight the spread of terrorism. - 
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Facebook is rolling out an advertising tool today that the company claims will be a real game changer. It wants to merge data from its over 1 billion active monthly users with their travels across the Internet on computers and mobile phones alike.

The end result is that advertisers can use the tool to buy ads outside of Facebook.

Currently, there’s a black hole between people’s internet use on smartphones and computers, says Nate Elliott, an analyst at Forrester Research.

“So you can target people who like the New York Yankees on the PC, you target people who like the New York Yankees on a phone, but you’re never quite sure, today, if you’re catching the same people on both of those platforms,” he explains.

Facebook’s Atlas service wants to close that gap and let advertisers better measure whether their ads were effective.

But Elliott cautions that Facebook’s announcement is short on details about how Atlas works.

“Today they’ve presented us with some nicely packaged sausage, but they haven’t told us much about how the sausage is being made,” Elliott says.

If the service is as good as the company claims, Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School, says it could help Facebook better compete in its ad wars with Google.

“Where Facebook has struggled in the past is that people don’t go to Facebook to buy things,” she says. “So now they’re deciding, 'Well maybe the whole Facebook ad idea isn’t the right answer.' Maybe it’s, ‘We’ll just be the place to come to buy ads for wherever you are.’”

A couple of years ago, Facebook watchers were bemoaning its lack of a mobile strategy. So this is fast progress, says Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

But it may elevate the privacy concerns many users already have with Facebook.

“If it’s done well, you will notice it,” says Kay. “Because what you’ll find is the creepy effect; that you’ll visit a site and then you’ll go somewhere else and notice an ad for something that seems to be related to that site you just visited. “

Facebook declined an interview request for this story, but the company has said it won’t give advertisers identifying information about users.

Just lots and lots of data.

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Follow Tracey Samuelson at @tdsamuelson