Friday, 12 May 2017

You're not on Facebook? Why not?!

One of the many reasons some people are closing their Facebook accounts and walking away – excessive, obsessive data collection and the uses to which it is put., 1 May 2017:

FACEBOOK has come under fire over revelations it is targeting potentially vulnerable youths who “need a confidence boost” to facilitate predatory advertising practices.

The allegation was revealed this morning by The Australian which obtained internal documents from the social media giant which reportedly show how Facebook can exploit the moods and insecurities of teenagers using the platform for the potential benefit of advertisers.

The confidential document dated this year detailed how by monitoring posts, comments and interactions on the site, Facebook can figure out when people as young as 14 feel “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “stressed”, “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, “silly”, “useless”, and a “failure”.

Such information gathered through a system dubbed sentiment analysis could be used by advertisers to target young Facebook users when they are potentially more vulnerable.

While Google is the king of the online advertising world, Facebook is the other major player which dominates the industry worth about $80 billion last year.

But Facebook is not one to rest on its laurels. The leaked document shows it has been honing the covert tools its uses to gain useful psychological insights on young Australian and New Zealanders in high school and tertiary education.

The social media services we use can derive immense insight and personal information about us and our moods from the way we use them, and arguably none is more fastidious in that regard than Facebook which harvests immense data on its users.

The secret document was put together by two Australian Facebook execs and includes information about when young people are likely to feel excited, reflective, as well as other emotions related to overcoming fears.

The Guardian, 3 May 2017:

For two years I was charged with turning Facebook data into money, by any legal means. If you browse the internet or buy items in physical stores, and then see ads related to those purchases on Facebook, blame me. I helped create the first versions of that, way back in 2012.

The ethics of Facebook’s micro-targeted advertising was thrust into the spotlight this week by a report out of Australia. The article, based on a leaked presentation, said that Facebook was able to identify teenagers at their most vulnerable, including when they feel “insecure”, “worthless”, “defeated” and “stressed”.

Facebook claimed the report was misleading, assuring the public that the company does not “offer tools to target people based on their emotional state”. If the intention of Facebook’s public relations spin is to give the impression that such targeting is not even possible on their platform, I’m here to tell you I believe they’re lying through their teeth.

Just as Mark Zuckerberg was being disingenuous (to put it mildly) when, in the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, he expressed doubt that Facebook could have flipped the presidential election.

Facebook deploys a political advertising sales team, specialized by political party, and charged with convincing deep-pocketed politicians that they do have the kind of influence needed to alter the outcome of elections. 

I was at Facebook in 2012, during the previous presidential race. The fact that Facebook could easily throw the election by selectively showing a Get Out the Vote reminder in certain counties of a swing state, for example, was a running joke.

Express online, 6 January 2017:

FACEBOOK siphons an enormous amount of data from its users – whether it's monitoring your mouse movements, tracking the amount of time you spend on any given post, or the subject of your photographs……

The US social network is constantly tracking information about its users – however, most users will not be aware of just how much data it can siphon from a single photograph.

Facebook hints at how much data it is able to detect when it suggests people who might be in the photograph, prompting you to tag their faces.

But in reality, the California-based social network is tracking much more than just faces.

When you upload a photo on Facebook, the social network scans the image and detects how many people are in the photograph, and whether it was taken indoors or outside.

Facebook is also able to identify humans, animals and inanimate objects.

It is not always accurate, but the social network is able to differentiate between people who are standing, or sitting down.

To find out exactly what Facebook is reading into your photos, software developer Adam Geitgey has created a useful Chrome browser extension that reveals the data Facebook is collecting from your images.

Show Facebook Computer Vision Tags reveals data that Facebook usually keeps hidden from its users.

The free Google Chrome extension can be downloaded from the Chrome extension store.

Facebook has implemented object recognition technology since April 2016, a spokesperson for the company told

The Verge, 27 May 2016:

Facebook will now display ads to web users who are not members of its social network, the company announced Thursday, in a bid to significantly expand its online ad network. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Facebook will use cookies, "like" buttons, and other plug-ins embedded on third-party sites to track members and non-members alike. The company says it will be able to better target non-Facebook users and serve relevant ads to them…

Some of the data Facebook collects to facilitate ad placements, according to The Washington Post on  19 August 2016:

1. Location
2. Age
3. Generation
4. Gender
5. Language
6. Education level
7. Field of study
8. School
9. Ethnic affinity
10. Income and net worth
11. Home ownership and type
12. Home value
13. Property size
14. Square footage of home
15. Year home was built
16. Household composition

As explained on that shiny new portal, Facebook keeps ads “useful and relevant” in four distinct ways. It tracks your on-site activity, such as the pages you like and the ads you click, and your device and location settings, such as the brand of phone you use and your type of Internet connection. Most users recognize these things impact ad targeting: Facebook has repeatedly said as much. But slightly more surprising is the extent of Facebook’s web-tracking efforts and its collaborations with major data brokers.

While you’re logged onto Facebook, for instance, the network can see virtually every other website you visit. Even when you’re logged off, Facebook knows much of your browsing: It’s alerted every time you load a page with a “Like” or “share” button, or an advertisement sourced from its Atlas network. Facebook also provides publishers with a piece of code, called Facebook Pixel, that they (and by extension, Facebook) can use to log their Facebook-using visitors.

While you’re logged onto Facebook, for instance, the network can see virtually every other website you visit. Even when you’re logged off, Facebook knows much of your browsing: It’s alerted every time you load a page with a “Like” or “share” button, or an advertisement sourced from its Atlas network. Facebook also provides publishers with a piece of code, called Facebook Pixel, that they (and by extension, Facebook) can use to log their Facebook-using visitors.

17. Users who have an anniversary within 30 days
18. Users who are away from family or hometown
19. Users who are friends with someone who has an anniversary, is newly married or engaged, recently moved, or has an upcoming birthday
20. Users in long-distance relationships
21. Users in new relationships
22. Users who have new jobs
23. Users who are newly engaged
24. Users who are newly married
25. Users who have recently moved
26. Users who have birthdays soon
27. Parents
28. Expectant parents
29. Mothers, divided by “type” (soccer, trendy, etc.)
30. Users who are likely to engage in politics
31. Conservatives and liberals
32. Relationship status

On top of that, Facebook offers marketers the option to target ads according to data compiled by firms like Experian, Acxiom and Epsilon, which have historically fueled mailing lists and other sorts of offline efforts. These firms build their profiles over a period of years, gathering data from government and public records, consumer contests, warranties and surveys, and private commercial sources — like loyalty card purchase histories or magazine subscription lists. Whatever they gather from those searches can also be fed into a model to draw further conclusions, like whether you’re likely to be an investor or buy organic for your kids.

Wired, 28 December 2012:

In 2010, while researching his thesis, he asked Facebook if it could send him all of the user data the company had relating to his own account. Amazingly, he got a response.

Facebook was, in Schrems' words, "dumb enough" to send him all his data in a 1,200-page PDF. It showed that Facebook kept records of every person who had ever poked him, all the IP addresses of machines he had used to access the site (as well as which other Facebook users had logged in on that machine), a full history of messages and chats and even his "last location", which appeared to use a combination of check-ins, data gathered from apps, IP addresses and geo-tagged uploads to work out where he was.

As Schrems went through the document, he found items he thought he had deleted, such as messages, status updates and wall posts. He also found personal information he says he never supplied, including email addresses that had been culled from his friends' address books. European law is worded vaguely, but says that personal data must be processed "fairly"; people should be given comprehensive information on how it will be used; the data processed should not be "excessive" in relation to the purpose for which it was collected; it should be held securely and deleted when no longer needed. And each person should have the right to access all of their personal data.

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