How Facebook Could Use Giphy to Collect Your Data

Giphy joins Facebook’s data collection arsenal

Owen WilliamsOwen Williams

May 15 · 3 min read

Image: Giphy
Facebook announced on Friday that it will buy Giphy, a popular GIF search engine and hosting service, for a reported $400 million.Though the announcement highlighted plans to integrate Giphy’s GIF library into Instagram, the acquisition will likely also benefit all of Facebook’s products — from Messenger to WhatsApp — by, among other things, giving Facebook access to vast data about how GIFs are used across thousands of apps.GIF search engines like Giphy have become a core part of how we collectively discover and share animated images. Giphy’s tools can be found embedded in apps from Slack to Signal, allowing users to instantly find the right GIF to reflect the moment. All told, Giphy has some 300 million active users every day across those platforms.

Giphy can track each keystroke that’s searched using Giphy tools

When embedded into third-party apps, Giphy can track each keystroke that’s searched using Giphy tools. Developers who install Giphy tools into their apps are required to give the service access to the device’s tracking ID. Such access allows Giphy (and now, Facebook) to better match the identity of a user across the apps they use on their phone.Not every app that has historically integrated Giphy wants to give that data to another company. Secure messaging platform Signal, for example, has gone to lengths to ensure that Giphy was unable to identify users through their Giphy use by intercepting GIF requests and performing them on their own servers, then delivering the ultimate image match themselves. To Giphy, it looks like Signal is making the search, rather than a specific user.
Giphy is integrated everywhere from an iOS keyboard app to Twitter, that’s a good signal Facebook is betting big on using the service to peer inside the wider internet.

For Facebook, Giphy is a match made in heaven: Not only does the startup already get 50% of its traffic from the social media giant’s apps, but bringing it in-house provides a way to peek inside a vast swath of apps and websites beyond its own. That gives Facebook an opportunity to better understand user behavior in its own apps, and beyond, and ultimately could enhance its ad-tracking capabilities further. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how it plans to use Giphy’s tracking capabilities.

Facebook isn’t the only ad company that has acquired a GIF platform. In 2018, Google acquired Giphy’s competitor, Tenor, for an undisclosed amount. Tenor is deeply embedded in Google’s products, including the default keyboard on Android, Gboard.

Unlike other Facebook acquisitions that the company shuts down and folds into its existing product, Giphy’s website will continue to run, according to a Facebook blog post that also noted Facebook was “looking forward to investing further in its technology and relationships with content and API partners.” Given that Giphy is integrated everywhere from an iOS keyboard app to Twitter, that’s a good signal Facebook is betting big on using the service to peer inside the wider internet.

That Facebook is acquiring Giphy now, during a global pandemic, is probably not a coincidence. As the global economy sputters, venture investment is becoming more difficult to find, driving companies that rely on new funding rounds to scramble to stay alive. Giphy was valued at as much as $600 million in its most recent round, indicating that it was forced to sell at a discount.

Acquiring Giphy is a smart play by Facebook, which has become increasingly unavoidable in life online. While you may successfully block trackers like the Facebook ad pixel following you around online, or even delete your Facebook account, the majority of us wouldn’t suspect we’re being monitored when we’re sending funny images to friends.

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