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Data points that Facebook uses to target ads (washingtonpost.com)
240 points by suprgeek on Aug 20, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 131 comments

"perfectly targeted ads"? Never had that experience.

Even if I summarize all the analytics solutions out there, like ads, Facebook stream, Youtube, Amazon, Netflix. What they usually do is they figure out what I did in recent history or in general and present me more of that. I don't know about other people, but that's absolutely not what I want. That's boring, or maybe even unnecessary.

Like, if I just bought a book about Linux system administration the only reason I would buy a second one would be because the first one sucked (and Amazon knows the ratings of the books). A reasonable suggestion after that would be something people do with Linux, like hosting a Wordpress blog. Honestly I might not even know what I would do with my newly acquired skill once I succeeded with that topic. Also it's quite tiresome to learn. Maybe after reading 30% of it I would like to insert a simple but interesting novel or comic book. Why not suggest something like that to me?

Or I just watched an action movie on Netflix. Then I don't need other action movie suggestions. After that maybe I want to watch a character focussed tv show.

What we need is not a "I know what you did and here is more of that" suggestion engine. What we need is a "oh that's getting boring, here is other awesome stuff that may surprise you" suggestion engine. Figure out the stuff I don't know I want and then suggest that.

And honestly, not a single of these billion-dollar-engines out there do that for me at the moment.

Amazon does this all the time with me. "You just buyed a headset, do you want another one?" ... really? How many people buy multiple headsets in rapid succession? Hopefully, their engine will learn with time to differentiate between categories where you often buy many in rapid succession and categories where you only buy every few years, so this gets better. At the moment, it is completely useless.

Well, I bought a headset for home, liked it, then bought an identical headset for the office. Someone else might like it and buy another for a friend. Probably their engine has found out that this is common enough for it to be worth recommending another headset rather than something else.

But why would I need a recommendation engine to show me ads for the thing I just bought, even in that scenario because I've got it in my hand and like it, so I'll just order another one like I did two days ago.


Buying something is the strongest marker of interest in a product. The fact that you bought it might be an invasion of privacy, but a strong indicator of interest in a product isn't, per se.

If you liked it, why do you need ads for alternatives?

They serve both the one you have been looking at and other ones. If you like it then it's one click to buy more. If you hate it, it's one click for an alternative...

As an advertiser, I could see this happening if you started looking at headphones on mobile, but purchased on desktop. Unless they are using a cookie onboarding service (I'd be mildly surprised if they weren't), they wouldn't have a great way to fire another tag for adding you to ask exclusion list for that product.

Of course ecomm audience management at their scale is super hard, but these are challenges most etailers face.

> What we need is not a "I know what you did and here is more of that" suggestion engine

I really agree on this. The Youtube homepage exemplifies it for me. It recommends only content the same as or very similar to what I've watched before, and only the most popular of that. I've watched a ton of conference talks, programming tutorials, etc. yet those never show up. It's mostly junk with clickbait titles from big channels.

I do like Youtube's recommendation algorithm for the side bar suggestions on a video page, though I get more sponsored-looking content now than in the past. It's been useful at least for finding music. And YT does have a page for improving homepage recommendations, which granted I haven't tried yet.

Youtube's home page is especially terrible. It seems to have very broad categories, and there's no really good way of pruning terrible (but popular) stuff out of it. You can say "not interested", then get some almost identical channel instead.

Whereas the "related" sidebar while actually watching a video is great.

"I do like Youtube's recommendation algorithm for the side bar suggestions"

You do? It does ok if I'm watching something technical or some reviews. It's laughably bad at music and wider interest content such as a documentary. If you hit a music track, 50% of the recommendations are the same damn track in degrading levels of quality, 30% the same band. The 10% that's left for other artists are normally a really bad connection to the mood. The last 10% lately is taken by awfully bad match, clearly sponsored, junk though never identified as sponsored.

Most of the time I'd like suggestions in the same genre or mood of music. If I've just watched an upbeat rock track why not suggest other upbeat rock tracks? Last.fm radio was superb at this, for years, until CBS destroyed it. So it can't be that hard.

I think the only times I use the sidebar is if the vid I landed on is terrible quality or a bad hit.

I don't know if this has anything to do with it, but I only seek out full albums. I've found that YT does pretty well for classic rock, metal, and electronica, and ok for older Jazz and classical music.

I tried it out just now for an album I like. I get about 25% unrelated junk or stuff I've already watched, but the rest are also full albums that seem like fairly solid recommendations based on the album at hand (Jan Jelinek's "Loop Finding Jazz Records").


Interesting. I very rarely search whole albums on YT but often rock and metal.

Start with a random metal track in mind an I find I get a band mix suggestion, a nordic folk metal mix, 11 more tracks from the same band, 3 tracks I listened to very recently, 4 connected other artists and "5 CREEPIEST Old Found Footages - Recommended for you" as a perfect example of the crap being injected recently. They must notice I've never once clicked one.

I do clear cookies and history periodically, so perhaps not having a multiple year history counts against.

> I do clear cookies and history periodically, so perhaps not having a multiple year history counts against.

In that other link I posted YT suggests pruning your watched history to get better recommendations -- but that's a huge undertaking given the thousands of garbage videos that I've clicked out of in five seconds. Seems like it would be better if the algorithm only operated on data from videos a user manually "likes".

>And YT does have a page for improving homepage recommendations, which granted I haven't tried yet.

Never hear of it. Can you share a link to it or a name of it?

This is what I was thinking of:


I didn't look closely at it the first time, but now that I have, it's not that useful.

The worst ads are the ones that advertise the very thing I've recently browsed. Say I browse some shoes (not google them, browse the site selling the shoes), that's when I start seeing tons of ads for that very site. What's the point? I thought ads are supposed to tell me something I don't know?

Nah, the worst ads are the ones that advertise the very thing I've recently bought. Almost every time I buy something on-line from Amazon or some company's store, I then keep seeing ads for that very product. Not before I buy it, but after I've already bought.

I've even seen this for what the companies must know is a once-a-decade purchase, like a big lifetime-warranty espresso grinder. It's not like I need a second one! Offer me some accessories instead, dammit.

Hmm, could there be something in the analytics that could be used to claim, in aggregate as opposed to you personally, that the ads influenced your buying decision, hence demanding a higher price, perhaps for future ads? Coz it doesn't make sense why they'd do that.

The weirdest ones for me are ads for lumber. Like, I go to the local lumber yard website to check dimensions of what types of lumber is available when I'm planning a project. That lumber is typically costing $1-$2 per yard, so I frequently only buy lumber for ~$20, and they'll show me ads at least ten times. Their ROI has to be very low?

Adding insult to injury, I only buy lumber from their competitor, who, although having a sucky website where I can't look up dimensions, will let me use their compound mitre saw for free, saving me a $600-$1000 purchase.

That is retargeting and can be extremely effective. Often times it takes multiple touch points to get someone to purchase, so display ad reminders can aid that.

Experiencing this with Instagram now. I used Instagram to follow lots of different accounts but basically didn't like anything apart of places I want to go to based on pictures posted by NatGeo and the likes to have a list of that at one point. Now Instagram only shows me this stuff and I'd have to scroll very far to find posts by friends. Now I'm not using Instagram anymore.

Wish there was an option to switch back to chronological view.

I'd argue that the new algorithmic feed makes things less democratic because naturally the most popular images and posters will trend to the top of my feed, leaving the friends who post once in a blue moon towards the bottom (even though I'd like to see their images just as much). The randomness of chronological was nice, now I just browse in my bubble of existing interests.

My favourite example of this madness was back in my Eve Online days, where, for years on end, I would be bombarded day-and-night with ads for Eve Online. SIGN UP NOW, JOIN THE ACTION, all the usual bullshit, despite me having an Eve account for years.

What the hell do they want out of me at that point? I already pay for an account, and if I want a second account then I already know where to get one, from the same place I got the first one: eveonline.com

Jesus, the whole thing was farcical, for all their tracking and profiling.

Just commenting about Facebook ads, the rest is pretty accurate in my experience -

On FB, that's the remarketing side, and it's a lot more manual. Generally the goals and data will be selected by the advertiser themselves. It works, but it's a bit blunt-weapon-y - let's say it'll catch 10% of people who are absolutely going to convert, and 90% of people who are absolutely uninterested for campaign X. All percentages here are pulled from nowhere, they're just to give you a general idea.

Remarketing is popular because conversions. Also, if you're well-off or otherwise a desirable target, you cost more to reach through Facebook - so you're likely to see more remarketing campaigns, because automatic campaigns will adjust to target less expensive individuals until they've gone through all of them.

Facebook's automatic targeting is a lot more sophisticated, and much more in line with the suggestion engine idea. Let's say it will catch 0.2% of people who are absolutely going to convert, 9.8% of people who might possibly convert, 45% of people who vaguely appreciate the ad being there without converting (including people who might Like/Share/comment on the post), and 45% of people for whom the ad doesn't really connect. It's not usually quite as powerful for conversion, but on average it's pretty accurate at guessing if you'll be interested.

Also, StumbleUpon was a decent suggestion engine once upon a time - if they could actually design a proper extension that did something similar, I'm sure it would be a success.

Just because the ad didn't work, doesn't mean it's a bad ad. If the average person has a .001% chance of buying the Linux book and you have a .1% chance of buying it, the targeting improved the efficiency of the ad spend by 100x.

"What they usually do is they figure out what I did in recent history or in general and present me more of that."

My favourite one is travels. They keep insisting that I travel to the place I just come back.

In the other hand, I see this as a good thing. We really don't want they target you perfectly, because that means that they know everything.

Advertisers with perfect information is, in my opinion, a scary proposition, but probably unavoidable in the long term.

So true, and it's often even worse in that you get peppered with ads of stuff you already bought.

The worst for me is getting back from holidays and having to suffer several additional months of ads for hotels in Japan everywhere on the web, reminding you that you're not there anymore.

That's actually what made me install adblock on my new system even though I was resolved to try to withstand ads this time.

Amazon is the champion of that

"Oh you just bough a mobile case, let me show you ten other types" or "You just bought this book, here's the paperback version of it"

Its worse if you click / visit stuff accidently. How many pages do we open just because we want to see what the issue is, but are finally not interested.

Totally agree with this. Even after collecting so much data, Google and Facebook fail at showing me ads which are useful for me.

However, even with their inferior targeting FB and Google are making billions. So it might be the case that there is no further incentive to improve in this area and they are focusing on making their core product better to get even more users.

the claimed relevance of the adds is the selling point of google and friends; maybe they do not quite anticipate what a 'power user' might want, however maybe they are more relevant to some people who are not connected day in and day out - sometimes you might do better if you have less data to extrapolate from .

Not a one of them appears to have thought of linking categories. If I just bought a mid or high price set of ear buds, sell me a nice case, some new music to listen to on them, or even a better music player, etc. Nope, more headphones usually.

If I just added some hiking boots, show me fluffy socks, gloves and coats. Maybe a compass and rucksack. Nope, more boots x4. Also bought: More boots x2, 1 pair of socks and a USB stick. Top Sellers in Athletic & Outdoor Shoes: Guess what? Your recently viewed items and featured recommendations... At which point it's getting tedious.

The only time the also-bought ad engines work is when buying music or books. I often buy those in 3s and 4s, and same artist/author or similar genre work pretty well there. For most everything else I buy they just don't work and are about as welcome as a party political tv slot.

I'm amazed none of them have tried to get a bit better at this.

What we need is an opt-in ad platform. For example I like reading sci-fi books and usually peruse Amazon’s catalogs to find new ones. But Amazon’s recommendation engine doesn’t seem to work that well, it’s just too broad. Other than that my options to find interesting reads are either niche sites/blogs which I rarely have the time to bother looking or friends’ recommendations. Wouldn’t it be nice if publishers could contact me with tailored to my needs recommendations based on genre, books I liked and what not. I wouldn’t mind been bombarded with ads if they’re related to my hobbies, not some random search I did on Google two weeks ago. It seems that the whole ad industry got so comfy with profiling that they never bothered moving forward trying new things.

I think a "oh that's getting boring, here is other awesome stuff that may surprise you" suggestion engine would get on my nerves (psychological) or just make me pee my pants (physiological).

The Holy Grail is Just In Time or Contextual purchases. The opportunity to buy something when your need is greatest. Calendar app which advertises to you based on your activities. Or the Amazon Dash.

The problem is pretty much all advertising is corruptible and becomes evil. I press your Dash button when you aren't looking.

Another targeting mistake is by language. On Facebbok, My profile includes Swedish, Italian and Dutch as languages I know. I've seen ads in those languages even though the products aren't even close to available for me (Though the ads are kinda memorable, especially the Postnord ad that I ran into for about 100 times, I wonder how much ad money they spent solely on me)

I wish they would think about targeting me with ads weekly.

Part of the reason ads annoy me is that I'm just not purchasing stuff every day. (Who does?)

If I got the ads I'm supposedly interested in once a week, that might be more useful.

It's remarketing, and it's on the newer end of ad tech. Presumably it will get better...

I like when they show me ads for the expensive thing I already bought, as if I'm going to buy it again. Had they predicted I wanted to buy that thing, and shown me ads for things like it first, that might have been useful.

That happens all across the 'net though, not just on Facebook. Happens to me with Amazon all the time - they have records of me eyeing something up, I buy it a day later, and 2 days later they're still pestering me around the 'net with ads about that thing.

FWIW, this is a co-ordination problem. There are many ad-networks that know your cookie was interested in this, however there is no singular (or multiple) way to let all of the ad-networks know that you have purchased this product, hence you get loads of ads for the same product even though you have already purchased it.

This is intentional. They're shaping your perception of the purchase by mitigating remorse.

Are you sure? I often see ads for the same type of thing but from multiple competing brands.

is this your personal guess? it sounds plausable, but... reference?

I, like novaleaf, would like some sources for your otherwise plausible sounding claim.

"People who have done things that suggest they're interested in buying this" is a highly valuable segment. Even if half of those people have bought the thing, it's worth advertising to them if it means you get the other half's eyeballs. They don't know that you bought it - they just know that you do things like those who want to buy.

Like, I went to a coding bootcamp. Making that decision means browsing the web like someone who is interested in that bootcamp. I ended up seeing a ton of advertisements for the bootcamp I was currently enrolled in. If you do things that are similar to what a company's target market is, people will notice that and turn that into cash.

Oh, but quite often they do know. Amazon knows perfectly well what I bought on their site. Vendor X should know perfectly well what I bought on their own site, using their own store instead of showing me the ad for that product for the next two months.

Even if Amazon knows and organizes the fact that you've bought the thing, that isn't what the ad space is selling. They're selling space that targets a particular kind of person, and whether or not you've bought the thing doesn't matter. Like, the company buying the advertisement slot wants to target a particular sort of person, and this is measured in various ways. So the network selling the advertisement slot wants to group visitors into different buckets based on these measurements, and sell to whoever happens to pay the most for a bucket that view happens to land on.

Basically, it's the end result of a process that confuses a measure with what it's measuring. You want to optimize for "interested in buying X". What you can actually look at is "things that people interested in buying X do more often than people who aren't interested". People buying advertising optimize for that, since it's actually possible to do so. And then since buyers actually care about the measurable proxies, that's what ad-space sellers give.

It's poorly done retargeting, but a common mistake.

Advertisers create a cookie list based on people who visited a particular product page. They fail to subtract from that the users who visited the checkout page.

If you're paying on a CPC, the cost to you (the advertiser) is negligible. Most people who have already purchased aren't going to click your ad again.

If you're paying on a CPM or CPV basis, then you're liking wasting money. It probably gets lost in the noise of the waste in all advertising. I have no idea if it's negligible or not, but it would help the user experience if the larger players helped more.

It's not hard at all to exclude buyers of the advertised product from the ad and I can't imagine that Amazon doesn't know that. We're doing it for clients all the time.

Probably they just don't care enough about their ads being a few percent more efficient as long as they are profitable.

Have you actually managed ecomm campaigns where you've done this? If so, how were your tags set up to facilitate this, particularly solving for the obvious cross device challenge?

I'm genuinely curious because those of us that are experienced in the hands on management of this stuff know how hard of a problem that can be in some circumstances.

Fwiw exclusion lists can be very effective if you can properly cookie someone at the appropriate time or leverage a data broker to pipe in CRM data. But it is by no means an easy thing to solve for.

You wouldn't see such an article on WashingtonPost before 2013. The former owner of the Post Donald Edward Graham was the mentor of Zuckerberg and Mr Graham is the lead independent director of Facebook's board of directors.

When people purchase GQ or Vogue, they are buying it as much for advertisements as for editorial content. When someone flips through one of those magazines, it's like they appreciate the designers hiring models, taking pictures, and sharing it in the magazine even though both they and the reader paid. Take the ads out of GQ or Vogue and there is almost nothing there.

If I create an ad on Facebook and people click on it, leave comments, and share it, Facebook will mark it as quality content and discounts the price per impression. It seems that Facebook wants to create the ad experience of GQ or Vogue and gives money incentive for advertisers to do it.

Facebook knows I'm into technology and web development. There are lots of great products for web developers created every month. Facebook is a way for companies to find people who are interested in their products. It helps people learn about new products and it helps companies target people who are interested in their new products.

There was a fundraising concert last year for a local charity. I volunteered $300 and time to do Facebook advertising. It yielded several thousands of dollars in ticket sales. For $300 Facebook let me communicate to people who really cared about either the bands who were playing or to people who really cared about the project what was happening. Facebook let me target people who like Candelbox within 40 miles of the venue.

This is good. I don't understand why people hate on it so much.

> This is good. I don't understand why people hate on it so much.

I think following quote by Banksy/Sean Tejaratchi[1] explains why there are so strong feelings about advertizing. Of course, not _all_ advertizing is bad, as your example shows. Only the vast majority...

"People are taking the piss out of you every day. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs."


> You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Completely wrong. Advertisers have to follow the law and that includes these laws. For example, if an advertisers uses your photo without your permission, you can sue them for copyright infringement.

Of course. Maybe it is good to note that the quote is from a graffiti artist around ten years ago. From his point of view advertisers are allowed almost anything compared to what he is allowed, which is pretty much nothing.

That's such a shallow and self-serving view, though.

Advertisers must negotiate and pay a property-owner for the right to display their ad. Graffiti artists are able to enter into similar agreements. When graffiti is authorized and/or invited by property owners, the artwork is welcome. When unauthorized, graffiti is usually no more than vandalism of someone else's property and thus infringement on their personal rights.

Yes, but how I read that sentence is that Banksy is talking about the relationship between the advertiser and the one seeing the advert, not the one selling the space to advert. _Even_ _if_ Banksy made all required agreements, he would still be severely limited regarding how he is allowed to use existing ads and e.g. communicate to the people criticism regarding the ads. I do not expect everyone to agree with his views, as this is pretty much the core of the IP discussion that has been going on for quite a long time.

(And just to note, I almost kept only the first paragraph of my original comment for why people have strong feelings against ads, but decided to include also the rest for some context.)

> I don't understand why people hate on it so much.

Perhaps because you're looking at specific subjective examples, rather than the overall end-user experience of advertising.

Take your example of a Candelbox concert ad. Let's say that band made more revenue as a result of your ad. But that money was diverted from other uses, perhaps depriving another band of revenue.

So, how does the losing side compete with that? Advertise too! Louder, cleverer, sneakier, anyway that works.

It's that adversarial aspect that makes the overall experience degrading for the viewer. Did you consider that the people you targetted also saw, say, five other ads on the same page? And several hundred ads online that day let alone billboards, commercial broadcasts, posters on the back of buses... cumulatively it's a bombardment, with each ad designed to have a subtle psychological effect and intended to siphon people's money in one direction. It's not benign.

TLDR: one ad might be cute, 1000 ads causes push-back.

>I don't understand why people hate on it so much.

Because they fundamentally misunderstand how advertising works. Read the comments on any article that discusses advertising and you'll see endless pages of people furious that Facebook or Google or Microsoft are "selling my data", as though an advertiser can click a few buttons and download a list of people's names and addresses and preferences.

It's the same confusion that exists about cookies, which people seem to think are super secretive bits of code that can somehow infiltrate your browser and watch everything you do.

The average person is completely misinformed about how advertising works, and the media breathlessly hypes up that misinformation despite the fact that they know very well exactly how advertising actually works and that nobody (well, nobody like Facebook or Google) is selling your personal information to anyone.

So you would claim that these companies do not hold these lists? Or do you understand that they currently don't sell them (because it is currently more profitable to sell services based on them)? Do you remember what happened when Radioshack went under recently?

>So you would claim that these companies do not hold these lists?

Why put words in my mouth, particularly when those words have nothing to do with what I actually wrote?

To address the meat of your conspiracy theory, Facebook and Google and indeed the vast majority of companies in similar positions with similar data collection activities all have very specific, highly defined privacy statements which explicitly rule out selling direct access to personally identifiable information, and all of them promise to give you notice ahead of time should anything change that would materially affect those agreements. I absolutely trust Google and Facebook never to sell my personal information to an advertiser and I am extremely confident that if they ever decided to do such a thing I'd have ample time to opt out.

None of which, by the way, has anything to do with the manner in which the general public misunderstands advertising. The general consensus is that their personal information is currently being sold to the highest bidder, and that's simply factually inaccurate.

You position is very naive. The general public is less trusting because they have a collective memory of how the world works.

People object to the collection and storage of the data in-and-of-itself. Most people understand that these companies will not sell their competitive edge under current market conditions - but market conditions change and companies change. The privacy policies are subject to change. Radioshack will give you a clue as to what might happen if one of these companies goes bust.

Another point to consider is that so called anonymized datasets have been de-anonymized repeatedly.

I don't purchase GQ or Vogue because I don't want to be visually assaulted with lifestyle gunk. I have enough uses for my money and I don't want more things competing for that attention; trying to inculcate extra desires is not increasing my welfare.

Some people aren't like you. They like having higher-level control over what they want; that is, they want to will what they want, and in that effort, they are working in opposition to advertisers, who are trying to make an argument that you should change what you want. The more information you give advertisers, the more leverage you give them to try and sap your willpower as you control your desires; i.e. the more "handles" they have to try and get a grip on your attention and direct it other than as the viewer wills.

If you try and live your life at a higher level than a hedonistic consumer flitting from one pleasure to another, you'll see that people who try and tempt you with new pleasures are not working in your interest. It's as simple as that.

I built a website for a monthly trade newspaper. They have 40 - 60 companies that advertise on the website. It's is a useful connecting companies and people who really need to purchase their services and products for their occupation.

Clearly you don't want what GQ or Vogue is selling. If GQ or Vogue targets your demographic and the ad is ignored, not interacted with, or the X is clicked, Facebook will still show the ad but will charge much, much more.

Facebook does try to encourage advertisers to show you content that you might have been happy to see if a friend or business associate posted it. Facebook by it's incentives to advertisers wants to blur the line between interesting content posted by friends and interesting content posted by advertisers.

You do see the difference between trade publications - connecting supply with existing demand - and the kind of marketing done in something like GQ, which is far closer to demand creation, right? For lifestyle goods in particular, demand generation is almost synonymous with trying to make the consumer unhappy with their life. It's pretty evil stuff, even more so in women's style magazines.

To the degree that FB advertising could be used for either ends of the advertising spectrum, FB data gathering for this purpose is at best amoral while averaging immoral. But we both know most advertising on FB isn't selling thirsty people water.

To be honest, I would need the 300$ for living and not for Facebook advertisement.

But lets take the numbers: You spend 300$ and got several thousands in revenue. So I would expect something between a 3% to 15% share for Facebook. If you try to evaluate the volunteered time spend (only for the advertisement) and subtracted it from the result, the numbers would already look much worse.

In my case, as Indy developer, I would have to compete with other software companies and my (cheap < 100.000$) advertisement would most likely show up in unappealing places.

Since most small projects are now exclusively financed by advertisement revenues by itself, Facebook created something like a ponzi scheme and most of the advertisement cost trickles away. With minimal profit-margins you also loose the possibility to pay any attention to product quality.

You should also consider that you also had the choice to go from door to door in your neighborhood for transactions. Since Facebook also owns the main communication channel for the web this possibility is bared.

It is not the question if people hate Facebook instead you should consider that Facebook destroyed the free market.

Finally consider that Facebook, as stock cooperation, is growth-oriented. If the advertisement market is ruined they will sell their user data elsewhere.

One pays money in order to buy GQ or Vogue and gets both content and ads in return.

On the internet, you usually don't pay anything for the content. In return, (1) you get to see ads, (2) whatever information about you can be harvested is potentially made use of in order to make money (other than that obtained by publishing ads).

To be clear: advertising is ok, but using the information somehow obtained by an individual for further advertising is not.

Does anyone know of any startups or upcoming projects that are trying to compete with Facebook (i.e building a social network?).

I still haven't managed to wrap my head around how exactly facebook makes money. Do so many people actually click on ads? And this somehow makes billions? I find it very hard to imagine (for myself).

The objective of much of the advertizing money in the world is to get impressions and not clicks. Clicks are chased by companies who are primarily selling products and services on the web - and that is really a small part of the economy.

Think of companies like beverage giants, car manufacturers, large consumer products giants, financial institutions etc or almost anyone who advertizes on superbowl on TV. Their primary objective is to build awareness & a certain brand perception among a large segment of consumers so that when you buy their category, you will choose their brand. Coca Cola doesn't necessarily want you to buy it that instant online you see the ad (though if you do, it's a nice bonus). Rather the objective is to build an equity that will make you think of yourself as a "Coke person" instead of say "Pepsi person".

Remember that bulk of the advertizing money in the world comes from such players. They pay facebook a premium for being able to deterministically show your advertizing to a given target audience.

Yes people do click on Facebook ads and they convert extremely well when utilizing Facebooks targeting correctly. I have ran very targeted ads on FB that have achieved a 20% CTR and 10x ROI. This was for a product appealing to 8 to 12 year olds. I targeted Moms with kids in this age range in specific locations and who fell within a certain income.

Other small business ads such as local coffee shops, restaurants, etc. that advertise deals/coupons also convert very well and get shared like crazy.

Facebook has nearly two billion users. The average user only needs to make FB $20 through a few ad purchases made on a whim and you've already doubled FB's yearly revenue. I've spent more money using restaurant coupons that came through the mail. It wouldn't even be that hard to target the average HN user: "20% off a GTX 1080!" Boom, done.

Even if you don't click on ads, it's not possible for you to cut them out of your sight. People see ads. They learn about the brand. If they are interested, they click on it to see more about it and if not, the brand getting registered in someone's mind is in itself a valuable asset. I believe that's the genius of Facebook, they have made the ad experience so seamless and intuitive.

Note that, people generally don't buy things the first time they see a banner about it. The process of today's digital marketing involves nurturing at multiple levels. For eg, I learned about the brand from Facebook. Then, I stumbled upon a blog post written by them. "Wow. Who are these guys? Why do I keep hearing about them?". I learned more about them and maybe bought something from them after a while. Undoubtedly, Facebook uninterrupted ads will (have?) become a major part of this funnel.

Not possible to cut them out of your sight... unless you use adblock

Which is why lots of people are very bullish on FB. No adblockers on the FB app, and so the more AdBlockers take off the more it helps FB.

use uBlock Origin instead, since adblock has a problematic "acceptable ads" policy.

Or, you know... Uncheck a box

But the problem is I want to recommend a plugin to my non-technical friends, who need something that protects privacy out-of-the-box without having to figure out how to open the plugin's settings and uncheck a particular box.

To me it doesn't seem hard to believe that people will click on ads (mistakenly or purposefully), nor that bot traffic is so significant, nor that advertisers are willing to pay for brand presence even without clicks.

What does continue to amaze me is that users tolerate how much data FB collects, how they use the data, how duplicitous they have been over time with users, and how they manipulate your feeds/user experience to benefit their revenue/advertising income. But I have come to realize most people just don't seem to care about privacy that much.

There's diaspora [0] and GNU social [1], but those haven't yet managed to pop up into the mainstream. Network effects should ensure that they do not anytime soon. With that said, the mounting controversy over Facebook and Twitter's moderation may end up pushing marginalized groups into these platforms.

[0]: https://diasporafoundation.org/

[1]: https://www.gnu.org/software/social/

Both of these are doomed in the mainstream until you can "just join" instead of having to pick from a list of servers you know nothing about anyway.

Yes so many people click on ads. Brands also pay to get higher on users wall posts. To evaluate what brands do, try creating an advertising account and check for yourself how much they charge you and how good their targeting is.

Do so many people actually click on ads?

On sites like Facebook? Yes. There's a lot of criticism, much of it justified, about spammy ads online. However, with a system like Facebook's or something like a search engine, the ads being shown are normally for something that might genuinely interest the viewer. That makes a favourable reaction much more likely, and it means far fewer resources are wasted showing ads to people who aren't likely to be interested.

I definitely notice facebook ads being more and more interesting to me. And even more interesting is that most ads are of the "need creation" type. Things I didn't really google anything about, or I never really thought as a product I would buy that show up and are actually relevant to me.

Last one I can remember is from yesterday a new startup doing good, cheap luggage (both carry on and bigger ones) which had me go to their website, spend some time looking at some of their stuff and made me think that I new a new carry on since then and I'm very close in puttin $250 in a carry on...

I guess I travel pretty frequently I don't know if facebook is able to say that I travel a lot by different locations I check in, or from my use of google flights and booking.com etc. but yeah, I never googled anything about luggage or buying anything else related to travelling (except hotel and plane tickets). So pretty interesting to see

Yet another book out recently which explores this topic:

"Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy"


Like everyone, we get a quite a bit of junk mail at our house. Some of it comes to "current resident", others target us by name. Broadly speaking it breaks into two groups. Things that are either geotargeted. (In my neighborhood, that would include ads such as "Why don't you lease a car through Uber and pay for it by driving!") and those that are more personally targeted (think credit card offers).

Today we got an interesting one. It was an offer to try Blue Apron. If we lived in Palo Alto, I'd chalk it up to geotargeting rich neighborhoods, but we don't live in one. Also, it came to wife who posts recipes on Facebook. It's enough to make us wonder if Blue Apron is somehow linking Facebook targeting data with real world names and addresses. Now I don't know if it's true, but if it is, that's creepy as fuck. That's autodoxing.

Germany has a law which allows you to adblock your mailbox. If you put a sticker on sayin 'no advertisements', you can sue any company that puts material without your name on it in.

Curious: How would companies that mail things to you know that there is a sticker on your (physical) mailbox?

Or do you mean that random companies are allowed to put things into your mailbox? In the US, only the US Postal Service is allowed to put things into your mailbox - not even FedEx or UPS are allowed to use it.

There are companies using the postal service to send advertisements such as catalogs to all households in an area. If the mail does not have your name on it (no name, or something like 'to the residents of your address') they can't put it in.

That holds for other random companies too. It's allowed in general to put paper in mailboxes I think, especially local businesses such as take-out food places do it occasionally.

Any ideas how Facebook acquires information about things like home ownership? I don't recall filling that out as part of my profile.

Do they perhaps match users' identities to public records? Is it possible to look up home ownership given just a name, demographic information, and contact information?

"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."

There must be because I get all kinds of junk mail since I bought a home. Some of the prescreened credit offers know the initial balance of my mortgage, too.

And this is paper mail!

Contrary to popular opinion, people want to see ads.

A good ad is very much appreciated. This is why magazines still make money. This is why the SuperBowl is popular amongst non-football fans. Unfortunately, most ads are spammy which is why internet ads have earned this terrible reputation.

> Contrary to popular opinion, people want to see ads.

I'd like to see some data supporting this opinion. I'll form the contradictory opinion that no-one really wants to see ads but most recognise that some form of advertisement is necessary to lower the cost of access to some information.

Rather and a _want_, it's more of an acceptable evil, sometimes.

There is probably a threshold at which ads become acceptable, and that probably involve their level of intrusiveness, perceived relevance/usefulness and the privacy risk they pose (although I would guess that the implication of that last point probably fly under the radar of most regular users as it needs some technical understanding of how the web works).

Ads on the internet are nothing more than spam, a privacy risk and some are just outright dangerous.

This industry is pretty much out of control and its bad actors deserve to disappear. They probably still have a few years left before ad blocking becomes mainstream enough that it hurts them enough. We'll all be forced to find new -hopefully better- measures to keep having some of the content we love.

Hopefully, some of the fluff content whose sole purpose is to feature ads will also disappear. Good riddance I say.

> Contrary to popular opinion, people want to see ads.

Which is why adblockers exist:-p

More seriously, you are right but people only like ads that are entertaining by themselves,introduce them to something new and worthwile or perfectly fit their needs.

Targeted advertising promises to do 3, can't do 1 and actively subverts 2. So I'd say it fails

nah, you're just wrong.

superbowl ads are popular because they are a spectacle. you know they are going to try to be different/unusual because the companies had to spend millions. you want to see them compete. BUT if you had to watch any of those fantastic ads 10 times everyday you would grow to hate the site of them.

ads in newspapers, magazines, flyers aren't as bad because they are passive. You can read them if you want to (i used to buy computer shopper magazines which are 99% ads). but TV and internet ads are desperate to engage with you.

auto-playing video ad with sound? I will make a note to hate your product and I will bad-mouth it any chance i get.

SOME people want to see ads.

And the glorious thing is that by giving people the option of opting out, you would be able to cater to the desires of both people.

But now let us be honest.

Giving people what they want is the last thing advertisers care about...

I kind of agree with you. What I would love is a system where I could preemptively put in all of my preferences and have some AI go and hunt for things to advertise to me. Like, if I'm in the market for a watch or a car, it knows that, and suggests deals to me. Right now, even during the 99.9% of times I'm absolutely not looking for a car, I have to see the ads, and the ad people lose money on each view. And once I've gone out and bought a car, I'd like to be able to right click the next car ad and say "Just got one, thx" and that would be that. Maybe the key to actual tailored, enjoyable advertising is making it so They know more about you.

Yeah, I was thinking about this just today. I'd very happily subscribe to a service to which I volunteer as much data as I want - my age, sex, location, job, interests, whatever - and define categories of products I might be interested in, and such service then shows me non-interactive, text/static-picture ads of relevant products on the web instead of the bullshit we see. An ad-replacer instead of ad-blocker.

Or a lite version, I could get a tailored magazine sent to my mailbox. That would be the single newsletter I'd actually appreciate.

There's a thing called perfect adverting. Exactly the right product presented to you at exactly the right time.

Super Bowl is sort of a good point, but what do you mean by magazines? Given a choice between a magazine with and without ads, are you saying some people would choose the one with ads? I don't think anybody seeks out ads, especially when they're paying for something. Super Bowl ads are only popular because they're essentially comedy skits and short films, they're basically free, and they're part of a cultural event that everyone you know watches. Almost nobody likes them because they appreciate quality marketing content or something.

> Almost nobody likes them because they appreciate quality marketing content or something.

Quality marketing is fun to watch.

Hence the people (including myself) who only watch the ads. It's hardly isolated to the Superbowl—look at the millions of views which some better ads get on YouTube.

Likewise, I definitely think for many people advertising is part of the magazine experience. I certainly don't mind some of the nicer ads in The New Yorker.

Yeah, but quality marketing is almost always an isolated story/plot that has nothing to do with any products sold and they throw a logo and name on at the end.

Most of these "quality" commercials could swap out products and the exposure would be the same. People don't want to be sold something, they just want to absorb interesting content. That's what modern advertisement gets wrong.

> Yeah, but quality marketing is almost always an isolated story/plot that has nothing to do with any products sold and they throw a logo and name on at the end.

I think the Get a Mac campaign, for example, is both lots of fun and directly connected to the product being sold.

When I used to buy computer magazines a big reason was the ads from computer parts dealers inside. Nowadays a lot of that is on the internet, but ads are still a way to find out about products and prices.

This is just my take on "luxury" items, but in magazines seeing new clothes/jewelry/perfume/watch/phone serves both as "news" (hey, this new thing exists) and a sort of fantasy (look how good things could be with this, because those items are almost certainly attached to someone/somewhere attractive)

And then there's stuff like Artforum, which has to be over half ads, but the ads are at least as important to the readers as the content. They tell you where the buzz is, or at least where gallery owners want it to be. In a market that's all about signaling, that's important.

In the 90s I actually liked ads in computer magazines. That was the only way to keep an eye on prices and new products, before the internet.

Now with the internet I do not even read magazines anymore...

In Japan, there are lifestyle magazines that are almost nothing but advertisements and are wildly popular, beautifully designed, and remarkably informative ("Popeye" is a good example). One can argue about the social merits of consumerism, but I think the quality of advertisements is directly proportional to how much their culture of origin values "taste" (again, debatably for good or ill).

I really enjoy the ads in print magazines. Especially tech magazines. I want to see the cool stuff that's available.

Online ads I block. The ads in the magazine can't spy on me or serve me malware.

As someone who advertises on Facebook - I'd say that FB takes a lot of care to ensure that the ads it displays do not take away from the User Experience, both in terms of content relevancy and design (FB applies penalties on neewsfeed ads which have >20% text on the image). Further, since pricing is dynamic - crappy ads get expensive to run really fast. That's how this system is so much better than the constant spam you were used to seeing in Web 2.0.

> Contrary to popular opinion, people want to see ads.

Yes, but they want to see other things too.

Looking at the same banners upon viewing any page on a website; or looking at more ads than the actual content; or waiting for the content to show up because ads haven't downloaded yet doesn't help.

Is there any advertising medium that won't be overexploited? Some owners, especially small ones, of advertising real estate will always try to squeeze every dollar possible. A majority of small newspapers carry an overload of local advertisments. The problem that I see is — it's far easy to increase ads than to increase readership.

The only solution I see is Google implementing strict policies to curb the menace. I am pretty sure it's in their technical prowess to implement ad placement restrictions but why aren't they doing it? Maybe, it's in their best interest financially to just be easy on the issue.

Absolutely. I even sign up to have ads delivered to my email: they're called newsletters. What I don't like is intrusive, spammy, misleading ads that want to track me across the internet. That's why I use an adblocker.

Ads that are related to the page content yes, as they might be even useful (eg book suggestion). But ads about things I already bought on another website five days ago - personalised ads are both scary and useless, every single time - you are right, they are spammy and ad-networks haven't learned a bit and just followed Google with that trend ten years ago.

But do people want to be tracked?

SuperBowl ads are an unusual case because they are so expensive, and everyone knows they are expensive. This means they are honest signals of success. If a company shows a SuperBowl ad you know they're rich enough to afford a SuperBowl ad, so they must be doing something right. Targeted internet ads don't have this feature - they are automatically priced and could be extremely cheap. You never know how much somebody paid for them so they have no signalling value.

I think you're reading a bit too far into things. People watch Superbowl ads because they're a once-a-year spectacle, regardless of the company situation, and you don't need to be a sports fan for them. Post-superbowl discussion about the commercials often involves statements like "They spent millions of dollars on that?", not "Wow, that company had enough to put together a superbowl ad!"

As always, people will remember the content of particular bits of entertaining advertisement, regardless of whether or not they remember the actual product or company being advertised.

The SuperBowl ads (and great TV ads) are a cultural touchstone and a world away from the world of online direct response advertising.

When was the last time you saw an iconic Facebook app install ad?

We're getting there. I'm thinking of those Mobile Strike ads with Arnold Schwarzenegger...

"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."

If you want to enable sharing of your content on FB and other platforms easily but you do not want to support the tracking madness, you might want to use Shariff. It's setup to not send any tracking information to FB etc unless the user wants to share something.


Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this article is how much data from other sources Facebook apparently has access to now. How do these "data brokers" have such detailed information about things like purchasing power and spending habits to share with Facebook in the first place?

It seems to me that a lot of that must come from either retailers or financial services, and in either case questions should be asked about how much people understand about what data is being collected for purposes other than simply making the intended purchase and what is done with that data.

Well now they can definitely compete with eHarmony's 29 points of compatibility.

I guess there must be a fine line between data with personal character like social security number for instance and private information as your current location.

Every coin had two faces, wonder how many faces bitcoin will have in the future

Why did the submission title change? It was the article title before and I didn't find that remotely controversial. Did FB PR get in touch or something?

I don't understand how people can build such a system. Yes, you. I don't understand how people in the thread are debating the merits of advertisement, as if that is what matters here. 1984 is here, and we all love Big Brother.

I mean this 100%: if you are participating in ad tech, collecting data on grandmothers in large databases, quit your job now. You are doing harm.

You just repeated your conclusion over and over without giving any non-emotional evidence that it's actually harmful.

I work for a company that makes a lot of money selling targeted ads. If I thought it was harming people, I wouldn't work there. But you haven't convinced me of that.

I'm not sure I intended to convince you, as opposed to merely expressing my emotional response, via this short Internet comment, and I'm not sure I can. I'm merely vocalizing my antipathy to a phenomenon I see around me every day, and that I feel is causing active harm, but that frequently passes without examination or moral outrage. I want you to know that I exist, that my position exists, first, since you should at least acknowledge that I am here in your own mind before you will consider my argument.

But in brief: while you are making a lot of money selling targeted ads by enabling an apparatus that collates detailed information about the lives of everyone on the planet, where they live, how they live, who they speak to, other people are creating machines and systems of murder that increase the power to kill and persecute based on this kind of surveillance.

The 20th century was replete with histories of people who used systems of surveillance to terrorize, persecute and kill hundreds of millions of people. The technology you are building is not only likely to be, but IS being used to this purpose today.

I implore you to stop. What you're building is a system of power and control. It is immensely dangerous. I don't imagine I will convince you through this, or any comment I can make here, but maybe I can provoke a kernel of doubt.

So I guess we've moved past the part of the conversatio where we ask if this tracking is ok?

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