2021-01-16 Facebook and WhatsApp

“Is there a good link to a simple text in German or English that explains why Facebook cannot be trusted, for a layperson?” I asked this question on Mastodon and got back a ton of links. I’ll use the opportunity to start a link collection.

@ColinTheMathmo, @deejoe, and @dredmorbius linked that story where a company is analysing your purchasing history and ends up knowing that a woman is pregnant before she tells her family.

Target Knows You're Pregnant, by Kelly Bourdet, for VICE: “A man walks into a Target store outside Minneapolis and angrily confronts the store manager. He shows him an advertisement that was sent to his high school daughter, filled with maternity clothing and baby items. The perplexed manager apologizes and even calls the man at home the following week to further apologize for the advertising faux pas. However, when he does the man sheepishly admits he’s found out that his daughter is, in fact, pregnant.”

@alienghic linked an opinion piece. I’m not quite sure I agree with the exact wording of the conclusion. I’m not convinced the business model actually works. For the purposes of explaining Facebook’s monopolist power, however, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the advertizers think it works.

Facebook’s Ad Scandal Isn’t a ‘Fail,’ It’s a Feature, by Zeynep Tufekci, for The New York Times. “Facebook has become the go-to site for anyone hoping to reach a big audience — whether to sell shoes or to sell politics, and it’s become profitable by doing so. That is because most of its systems are either largely or entirely automated. This lets the site scale up — it is up to two billion monthly users now — and keeps costs down … — ad-targeting through deep surveillance, emaciated work force, automation and the use of algorithms to find and highlight content that entice people to stay on the site or click on ads or share pay-for-play messages — works.”

@deejoe reminded me of this experiment, where somebody tries to live without the “big five” tech giants out of their life. It’s hard.

I Cut the 'Big Five' Tech Giants From My Life. It Was Hell. Week 6: Blocking them all, by Kashmir Hill, for Gizmodo. “The tech giants laid down all the basic infrastructure for our data to be trafficked. They got us to put our information into public profiles, to carry tracking devices in our pockets, and to download apps to those tracking devices that secretly siphon data from them. … The tech giants were long revered for making the world more connected, making information more accessible, and making commerce easier and cheaper. Now, suddenly, they are the targets of anger for assisting the spread of propaganda and misinformation, making us dangerously dependent on their services, and turning our personal information into the currency of a surveillance economy.”

@deejoe also recommended Shoshana Zuboff’s book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. I must confess that I haven’t read it. All I’ve read are comments here and there, and I’ve seen her in the movie The Social Dilemma (2020).

@maikek linked the Wikipedia pages collecting the criticism of Facebook: Kritik an Facebook, and Criticism of Facebook. Just look at a selection of the table of contents:

Uuuuugh. 🤮

@jamesmullarkey linked a report from Amnesty International. Facebook and Google’s pervasive surveillance poses an unprecedented danger to human rights. “As a first step, governments must enact laws to ensure companies including Google and Facebook are prevented from making access to their service conditional on individuals ‘consenting’ to the collection, processing or sharing of their personal data for marketing or advertising. Companies including Google and Facebook also have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever and however they operate.”

The report is available for download at the end of the article. In the executive summary: “But despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost. The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse. Firstly, an assault on the right to privacy on an unprecedented scale, and then a series of knock-on effects that pose a serious risk to a range of other rights, from freedom of expression and opinion, to freedom of thought and the right to non-discrimination.”

Indeed: “This isn’t the internet people signed up for.” 🤮

@jamesmullarkey also reminded me of something that I had practically forgotten. A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military, by Paul Mozur, for The New York Times. “The Facebook posts were not from everyday internet users. Instead, they were from Myanmar military personnel who turned the social network into a tool for ethnic cleansing, according to former military officials, researchers and civilian officials in the country. Members of the Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and that targeted the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group, the people said.”

@ashwinvis linked me Richard Stallman’s Reasons not to be used by Facebook page which led me to Get your loved ones off Facebook. “Through its labyrinth of re-definitions of words like information’, ‘content’ and ‘data’, you’re allowing Facebook to collect all kinds of information about you and expose that to advertisers. With your permission only they say, but the definition of ‘permission’ includes using apps and who knows what else.”

Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine, by Adrienne LaFrance, for The Atlantic. “In the days after the 2020 presidential election, Zuckerberg authorized a tweak to the Facebook algorithm so that high-accuracy news sources … would receive preferential visibility in people’s feeds, and hyper-partisan pages … would be buried, … offering proof that Facebook could, if it wanted to, turn a dial to reduce disinformation—and offering a reminder that Facebook has the power to flip a switch and change what billions of people see online.”

@trianderror linked resources in German, collected by Netzcourage.

@dredmorbius linked Why Zuckerberg’s 14-Year Apology Tour Hasn’t Fixed Facebook, by Zeynep Tufekci, for Wired. “By 2008, Zuckerberg had written only four posts on Facebook’s blog: Every single one of them was an apology or an attempt to explain a decision that had upset users. … I’m going to run out of space here, so let’s jump to 2018 and skip over all the other mishaps and apologies and promises to do better … in the intervening years.”

@michel_slm mentioned Does Facebook Use Sensitive Data for Advertising Purposes? by José González Cabañas, Àngel Cuevas, Aritz Arrate, Rubén Cuevas, in Communications of the ACM. “we demonstrated that Facebook (FB) labels 73% of users within the EU with potentially sensitive interests (referred to as ad preferences as well), which may contravene the GDPR. FB assigns user’s different ad preferences based on their online activity within this social network. Advertisers running ad campaigns can target groups of users that have been assigned a particular ad preference (for example, target FB users interested in Starbucks). Some of these ad preferences may suggest political opinions (for example, Socialist party), sexual orientation (for example, homosexuality), personal health issues (for example, breast cancer awareness), and other potentially sensitive attributes. In the vast majority of the cases, the referred sensitive ad preferences are inferred from the user behavior in FB without obtaining explicit consent from the user. Then advertisers may reach FB users based on ad preferences tightly linked to sensitive information.”

I might be adding to this list in the future.


All the different links and stories make me wonder: “Is there a good link to a one simple text in German or English that explains why Facebook cannot be trusted, for a layperson?” 😉

– Björn Buckwalter 2021-01-20 14:00 UTC

Good question! What I took from all of the above is the Wikipedia page, Criticism of Facebook. It’s a bit more than a typical family member is willing to read but you can link to it and “just look at the number of issues!” and if you want to offer an example, just link to a specific section like “the app is listening to what people are saying!” (Providing ads through "snooping"Is Facebook listening to me? Why those ads appear after you talk about things) In other words, the tracking is so good it’s as if the the company is listening to your conversations. Super creepy.

That’s my current assessment of the situation.

– Alex 2021-01-20 14:19 UTC

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