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Facebook Australia allowed advertisers to target teens’ emotional states (arstechnica.com)
341 points by reirob on May 1, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 235 comments



Totally unsurprising. I mean, people don't actually think FB is a positive force in the world do they?

The science is clear on human's capacity for meaningful/real realtionships (it's a pretty small number), the anecdotal evidence is also fairly clear on FB's real contributions to society (it's not positive).

FB really is the poster child for just how willing we are as a species to roll around in our own feces. It's most definetly a sad commentary on where we are at in general as a society and the contribution it made to the last electoral shitshow is just icing on the cake.

Hell, it's also sigularly unsurprising that Zuck is headed to politics, in fact that morass of crap is just about a perfect fit for him.


Just because I can only have a few meaningful relationships doesn't mean that I don't like to keep track of what's going on in the lives of my friends and family that I've met over the years. That's a great service.

Yes Facebook does bad things from time to time, researching what days of the week teenagers are most likely to post given content does not, in my mind, qualify as an especially nefarious action.


Give me a break, we supposed to protect the weak teenagers not sell them to advertisers for exploitation. They are vulnerable they need support at this time not the lucid loop of facebook. This is sad news.

Also about your "keep track of what's going on in the lives of ..", just call your friends to find out what is going on in their life. People normally don't post everything on facebook. I think its a great service if you want to know what's going on in Kim Kardashian life.


>Also about your "keep track of what's going on in the lives of ..", just call your friends to find out what is going on in their life.

I don't understand the need many people have to know what their friends are doing at all times. I check my friends' Snapchat stories sometimes, but usually I just don't care and they can tell me next time I have a conversation with them.


'Why do people like something I do not enjoy?'


That's not the question, and I do enjoy knowing what people are doing. What I don't understand is the addiction many people have to social media.


>Also about your "keep track of what's going on in the lives of ..", just call your friends to find out what is going on in their life. People normally don't post everything on facebook.

Not all of my Facebook friends are close enough that I'd call them to keep in touch, but it's still nice to know how they're getting on.

One of my friends from high school just finished her education to become a Doctor. Good for her. I didn't need to know that, but it's still nice, and I would never have known without something like Facebook.


>One of my friends from high school just finished her education to become a Doctor. [] I didn't need to know that, but it's still nice.

I reminded of the scene in Fight club where the narrator discovers that "Chloe died of cancer". He'd forgotten all about her, but discovering her death made him react as though sad. When challenged as to whether he cares, he says something like "I don't know, I haven't thought about her in a while".

(unnecessary reference, but I guess it frames the other side).

After I'd left uni for a couple of years Facebook became a long list of people I used to know sharing lots of minutae and a few big events in their life. Processing that has a cost, emotionally and intellectually. Is that cost worth paying? My deciding "no" doesn't mean that it's true for everyone!


The toxic thing about social media is that people are only sharing their best moments or are even trying to portrait their lives to be a lot better, then they actually are.

So if you're a depressed person on social media seeing all those awesome things people are doing, just sends you down a downward spiral, even though a lot of people are probably not much better off.

And you just said it yourself. You didn't need to know your "friend" got her doctors and your life probably had zero impact from knowing, which really is the best case szenario with social media.

I am not saying, social media serves no porpuse though. For event organizing and crowd funding and probably a lot of other things, it comes in handy.


You seem to be mixing up social networking in general and FB in particular.


Slightly tangential experiment: I'm commenting here because this thread is quite close to the top of the page, and the top-level comment I left with the following info is not likely to become un-buried at this point.

Just wanted to say that the paywalled article in The Australian can be viewed via cache: just fine:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:dRqAloI...

Here's a more permanent copy: http://archive.is/paAKu


Whoops, this is now at -2.

My apologies, and thanks for the feedback; I won't try this again.


"In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could." - Rudi Dornbusch, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudi_Dornbusch

Change is closer than we think.


I don't personally use Facebook much but this is overly pessimistic. Sure, people can get addicted to Facebook (I've seen it happen) but people get addicted to many other bad and harmful things.

I tend to prefer Facebook Messenger (messenger.com is great btw - literally a blow up version of an iPad/tablet app). It 100% encourages 1-1 communication and staying in touch with friends since there's nothing else to do there - you can't get sucked into mindless browsing. It doesn't even have any ads as far as I can tell.

(edit - typo)


Sure, people can get addicted to Facebook (I've seen it happen) but people get addicted to many other bad and harmful things.

I'm here neither to attack or defend Facebook, but this is a really crappy way of looking at the world. "People suck anyway, so...."

You could put just about anything after beginning a sentence like that.


I agree. I am very curious about ways to prevent people from getting addicted to harmful things or things that they consciously decide to avoid.

I am not here to attack or defend Facebook either, but I think accusing them of being bad just because people get addicted to it is not a good measure. People get addicted to smartphones also but I rarely see people critical of the smartphone as a device.


>FB is a positive force in the world do they?

Thats how I keep up with my extended family 1000 miles away. I do think it's a positive force in the world.


I am not trying to demean your comment in any way but I will give you an alternate viewpoint..

Back in 2011 I also used Facebook to "keep up" with my distant friends and family. I read their posts, looked at their photos, liked their comments, left notes here and there.. Chatted with them..

Then one day I realized that these were all (for me) extremely shallow interactions, and I decided I would make a better effort to stay in touch.

I closed my Facebook account, and made a commitment to reach out directly to the people I cared about. Perhaps less often, but in more meaningful ways.

I started sending monthly emails, and scheduling Skype or (eventually) FaceTime calls, and so on..

Fast-forward 6 years of that and I feel much more connected to the distant people I care about in my life than I ever did via Facebook, and almost all of them have reciprocated my efforts at maintaining a better connection..

Again, this is just my story, but you really don't need Facebook to stay in touch with the people you care about, no matter where they are in the world.


But you can only do that with so many people. Facebook is more convenient. And it has the random factor. Sometimes there's a friend d who you weren't super close with but always thought well of. With Facebook you can see when they're visiting your city (if they make a post about it). It gives you the opportunity to know that that friend is around and reach out to them.

I think there are a lot of positives to Facebook, but a lot of potential negatives for certain kinds of personalities (people who are negative or addictive). With the right attitude though, it's certainly helpful


This kind of sounds like hoarding.

I look back on my Facebook usage as a cost / benefit tradeoff and in the end the benefits just weren't paying off.

I know exactly what you mean in theory however, no matter how much one views "status updates" inevitably you're drifting apart from those people and caring less about what they're doing, that's natural. I had less time for my closer friends. It felt artificial to have to stay connected, exhausting, though I didn't realise till I left.

One could check updates less, often, but then what's the point ?

If someone really wants to hangout they just contact me via other channels.


That's not random, that's the algorithm. It might not show you anything if it decides you won't find that friend interesting.


Not that this is "what you decide is interesting". Which makes it much less useful, prone to social signalling and what is worse, actually less meaningful than more direct contact. Remember, it is mostly text, not even time of voice is carried in it. Even a picture is static.

Contrast with realtime voice and video. (Facebook has those features but they're nowhere near as utilized. And they definitely do boot show up in feeds.)


What is the point of reaching out to a "friend" only when it's convenient to you? The only motivations I can think of are quite selfish.


Is it so horrible to have people you're willing to walk to your local pub for, but not willing to travel to their city for?

Just because you're not willing to make time for someone doesn't mean you can't enjoy an evening of chatting and catching up when your lives happen to intersect.


> But you can only do that with so many people.

That's a feature, not a bug.


> I read their posts, looked at their photos, liked their comments, left notes here and there.. Chatted with them..

Wow. Back then it had already degenerated into two things: chainmail and the trap of portraying a life that you don't lead. I left when I realised that absolutely none of that "keeping in touch" was happening. If anything, Facebook estranged people.

To the point of the article, imagine all the good that could be done with this data: an alert system for vulnerable teenagers.


I think part of this trap was due to how FB encouraged people to "friend" as many people as they could..

At the height of my Facebook usage, I had less than 100 connections, because even back then I only stayed connected with people I was trying to maintain meaningful connections with.

No co-workers I didn't see socially, no one I went to high school or university with but didn't still keep in touch otherwise, etc..

So I rarely saw "junk" on my feed that was totally irrelevant to me, but it still happened sometimes..


In addition to meaningful communications between you and family/friends, the communication is only between you and you friends. On facebook, the communication is through you --> third party corporation --> family/friends.

There's something to be said about not directly involving corporations with your communications.


Why use the internet at all then? After all I can 'prove' that real world interactions have far more informational content than virtualized ones, so all non-utilitarian electronic communication is inherently inferior if you begin with that premise.


The internet? Well for example there are many internet services that I do use, for example p2p sharing, decentralized and open source services. There's nothing inherent that says a major social networking site needs to be a multi-billion dollar corporation, in fact that goes against the foundation of decentralization that the internet was built upon.

What I'm trying to say is, the internet is great, with it we can move beyond the old hegemony and monopolies.


The postman, local mail company, phone line company, Microsoft (Skype).

Unless you talk to them face to face, most, if not all, forms of communication rely on third parties.


The postman doesn't read your mail. (Normally, of course. I'm sure it's happened).


Sure it happened somewhat. That's how they caught Solzhenitsyn and that's the protagonist's side job in Catch 22.

But we're talking orders of magnitude of difference.

In general "they" don't read your mail because they can't even if they wanted to. Slow mail is extremely expensive to do a through survailence on.


That's kind of the point though. Even if they would read your mail if they could, they cannot because of the technological limitations on the medium.

The intention doesn't matter, the fact is that slow mail is private for all intents and purposes.


If I may attempt to bridge two viewpoints?

You're absolutely right. Facebook can be an immensely negative experience for a person, a damaging force in their life. Facebook also can be a positive force, connecting a person to their friends, loved ones, and community.


But might that also have been the case even if Facebook never existed?

Eg maybe getting older was a factor in that.

I lived most of my life without Facebook (born in the late 70s) and it's at least not obvious to me that people had more deeper connections prior to it.


I agree that most relationships weren't more meaningful, but I had less meaningless relationships too.

That's the sick part of FB. That I really don't care for my cousin saving the world in Africa, so why should I care what she's doing?

I don't. And the truth is most of us don't care either. We're unable to admit it to ourselves so we pretend to care


That's just you. My sister has a similar approach (sending out periodic emails) and I find them utterly tedious to read, too polished and edited to approach any kind of spontaneity or intimacy, and mildly annoying as a reminder that she can't be bothered to keep up with any of my online social activity while expecting me to stay up to date with what she considers important to report.

Yes, quite a lot of social networking interactions are shallow, as are most real-world social interactions. but I've also made quite a lot of good friendships from what started out as shallow interactions. You're doing social networking right here on HN, you just treat it differently because it's (I presume) somehow connected to your professional activities.


Maybe your sister is just a bad writer? Or you already don't like her and are predisposed to find her emails tedious? I don't still write to people who didn't write me back, by the way.. I got the message that they were not interested. It's not an exercise in narcissism..

And yes I was indeed sharing a story about what works for me. I never implied it would work for everyone else, or that anyone using FB was doing anything wrong, or that "social networking" is wrong.

You're also right that I am networking on HN as we speak! And these are also very shallow interactions, but that's perfectly ok because this is just HN and I'm just talking with strangers about topics that interest me.

But that wasn't the case with Facebook. Context matters. I was having shallow interactions with people I have deep existing relationships with (good friends who have moved away, family, etc), and I decided that for me personally that didn't work, and I wanted to do things differently.


The concept of social media is a positive force, not Facebook the entity.


I'd like to think this (too), but I don't believe there's any evidence to support this claim.


In many countries they don't have free speech among other things and it's harder for them to organize. Twitter and Facebook have been used to help oppressed people across the world organize to help enact change. It's also helped catch criminals and citizens and first responders react quicker to crisis.

I rarely use Facebook because it's a time suck and I closed Twitter, but there are a lot of positives from social media, especially if you consider it globally.


"In many countries they don't have free speech among other things and it's harder for them to organize. Twitter and Facebook have been used to help oppressed people across the world organize to help enact change."

I see this claim often, but I've never seen any hard evidence backing this claim.

Au contraire: Social media is a fantastic snooping tool for oppressive (or even non-oppressive) regimes.


"Our evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising," said Philip Howard, the project lead and an associate professor in communication at the University of Washington. "People who shared interest in democracy built extensive social networks and organized political action. Social media became a critical part of the toolkit for greater freedom." [1]

"Social media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring. A spike in online revolutionary conversations often preceded major events on the ground. Social media helped spread democratic ideas across international borders." [2]

"Global Use of Social Media to Fight Corruption Inspires Youth in Brazil" [3]

"In the Bagega community in Nigeria, lead poisoning had resulted in thousands of children suffering serious health problems. The government announced it would release around $5.3 million for remediation but months later the funds had still not reached the affected community." Two passionate guys formed an organization called Follow the Money and amplified the voices of this forgotten community. Within 48 hours of a Twitter campaign targeting government officials and other influential leaders -- and following a campaign by groups including Human Rights Watch -- the funds were released and affected children are now receiving the urgent medical care that they deserve. [4]

[1] https://phys.org/news/2011-09-quantifies-social-media-arab.h...

[2] http://collectiondevelopment.library.cornell.edu/mideast/Rol...

[3] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/11/09/Brazil-y...

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/18/opinion/want-to-expose-corrupt...


Thank you.


Of course there is, people choose to spend their time talking to other people on the internet because they get something out of it that they find superior to other kinds of interactions.


The phone and post office allowed this as well, doesn't mean we need to keep with them on a daily basis.


you don't have an email account, a telephone, skype, AIM client, or even USPS?


Yes, imagine if one of your loved ones had depression and hid it well- facebook could sell him moody movies and suicide literature, while totally raspacting the privacy of cluelessness to the very end. Thank you fb


Or if you are Donald Trump it might convince you from all those like buttons pressed next to your post, that you are the second coming of Christ and only you can save humanity, as long as you continue and keep up your insightful posting.


That's why there's an anger dislike now.


Does anyone think the modern world is a positive force? It didn't happen because it was better for humans.


Yes I certainly do, you are better off today in almost every measurable way than any other time period. Life was really hard, and usually really short.

Life expectancy is up 50 years from 1000 years ago, childhood mortality is at its lowest point in history, education rates are at their highest, global poverty is at its lowest.

None of these are positive forces to you? What time period would you prefer?


Just because this weird bit of ideology is a pet peeve of mine and it's very widespread, let's go over it one more time:

The short average life expectancy of primitive humans is entirely an artifact of high childhood mortality and how averages work. If you lived past childhood you were likely to live until your 60's or 70's.

Primitive human lives were not hard and not short, the workweek for hunter/gatherers was less than half of ours. They were strongly biased towards highly egalitarian cultures.

Doesn't mean I'd necessarily prefer that time period to now, but I'm a white guy in a rich nation with a professional career and it's still not an obvious call. For the rest of the world they wouldn't have to think about it, they would hop in that time machine and head for a pre-agricultural era in a heartbeat.

The idea that blindly sprinting in the random direction of the latest discovery and calling it "progress" has not had any downsides is stupidity, as is the willful ignorance necessary to accept a cartoon version of pre-history created in 1651 based on extrapolating from experience in London, without any evidence or knowledge.


> The short average life expectancy of primitive humans is entirely an artifact of high childhood mortality

I am aware of this, but not sure why you think this negates the fact that life expectancy has increased. I would much prefer a drastically higher chance of living passed childhood. And if I somehow managed to live long enough to have children, I'd prefer that my children don't all die at birth, along with their mother. These desires have only been made possible in the last century or two


It certainly doesn't negate it, but it was an extraordinarily costly thing to buy for humanity. Other statements made it clear you didn't understand the cost. And that cost is born largely by those who's childhood mortality rates have not improved (for many they have worsened considerably).

Of course you'd prefer to have the modern first world chances of surviving childhood and childbirth. If you had a choice between prehistorical lives for your surviving children or for them all to have the lives of a random child on earth today it's a harder choice. Making your base of comparison the middle ages is also the most skewed comparison possible.

That's not even counting the fact that we are supporting this technological infrastructure not only by reducing the quality of life from less powerful peoples but by massively borrowing quality of life from all future generations.


Adult mortality was still quite a lot higher than it is today.

There have been some attempts to study hunter gatherers that existed in recent times:

http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/life_history/aging_evolu...

The group there isn't necessarily going to be representative, but mortality for young adults was ~2% per year. In the US it is something like 0.1%.


Talk about missing the point. Your age at death is not a score.


I think you might be reading more than is there.


better off today in almost every measurable way

Quants are not the only people entitled to have an opinion on this. While I mostly like the modern world it has lots of downsides too. Simplistic measures like life expectancy reduce the business of living to a handful of metrics and then pronounce things to be good or bad according to how those arbitrary criteria measure up.

That's great if you want to live in a world that's run like a factory where productivity is the highest social good. I don't. I would be fine with dying at 60 or even tomorrow, not because I don't want to live any more but because I've chosen to set my own goals about what sort of life and activity I find meaningful rather than simply maximizing some inherited utility criteria.

Long life would be nice, in general, but it's a fact that one's life might be arbitrarily cut short by some random accident. In your world being out at one extreme or the other of the probability distribution is statistically interesting but nothing more. Your value system lacks any criteria for determining the worth of life other than the most primitive feedback loop of maximizing whatever quantitative factors you've set yourself to measure.


It's very easy to live an long, comfortable and unhappy life.


But I guess it is easier to be happy when you are richer and have a smaller probability to die tomorrow.


No it isn't. Wealthy people just have more options for staving of misery, which isn't the same thing as being happy.

I am friends with a few super-wealthy people, one who had access to great wealth through business and another who's a prominent aristocrat. When I say friends, I don't mean that we hang out to drink champagne, but that I'm privy to intimate details of their family/personal lives. Wealth does not inoculate you against crippling emotional problems.


I was referring to the hunter-gatherer era (the majority of human history). I don't believe we are better off in any way thanks to the modern world. Farmers were able to kill off hunter gatherers, that is all.


It's very easy to romanticize the past. What does it help?


I suggest The Crisis of the Modern World by René Guénon to you.

http://dinghal.com/bibliotheek/The_Crisis_of_the_Modern_Worl...


Your post would have some semblance of significance and taken even slightly seriously if it wasn't so hyperbolic. What happened to nuance on HN?


It is as nuanced as the subject matter deserves and perhaps HN is acknowledging it?

While the wisdom of the crowds favors the continued existence and growth of Facebook, the wisdom of a tech heavy audience takes a skeptical stance, and the skepticism is heightened when entities such as Facebook and Google are completely robbing us of our privacy one little "byte" at a time.

In the time it took you to read my comment, let us just suppose FB and Google just reduced the privacy of your life by about x%, however minuscule you might think x is. The trouble is, despite the vitriol directed at these entities, the rate not only doesn't seem to reduce, it is actually going up every day!


This guy has access to everyone's conversation and anyone he wants to talk to at his finger tips and he has gone off on a "listening tour". Says all there needs to be said, about his ability to have a real conversation on his own platform.


Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don't know why.

Zuck: They "trust me"

Zuck: Dumb fucks.

- http://www.businessinsider.com/well-these-new-zuckerberg-ims...

Has he ever acknowledged saying this publicly - or ever spoke about how he fucked over the twin brothers? I want a leader who's transparent, open - honest.


I don't think he acknowledged saying that, but he was also 19 at the time.


I've seen very little evidence to show that he's improved since then. The ‘free internet’ stunt he tried playing in India recently was disingenuous and machiavellian. Then there's this story. I rarely say this about any public figure apart from politicians but I loathe the guy (and his company).


How exactly was the free internet program disingenuous?


It was free access to a limited subset of services, it would be a great way to lock in facebook use as it'd be the only social network that would be available. Calling it free internet is disingenuous because it wasn't access to the internet, but rather access to a couple websites.


First world ISPs provide limited access to the internet too by not allowing servers, use of "uncommon" ports, or issuing static IPV6 addresses to residential users.


I'd argue that's not to funnel use into a product that maintains market share through the network effect. That's the thing that made the free basics program so pernicious. What you are describe is just providing a poor service, rather than a service that is specifically tailored to stamp out competition.


IMO there is a significant (i.e. orders of magnitude) difference between these two examples.


Apples and oranges comparison.



>I don't think he acknowledged saying that, but he was also 19 at the time.

You don't get to play the whole "Genius Wunderkind" part, take all the success and notoriety that comes with that, and then say "Oh, young people will just say dumb stuff" regarding your emotional maturity at the time. This is who he is. The quote perfectly sums up Zuckerberg's actual intentions, as demonstrated repeatedly by his public actions. He's a sociopathic megalomaniac, and Facebook is a net drain on society. Fortunately, I think others are beginning to realize it too.


How is age an appropriate excuse to my concerns? My concern is that he can't be transparent and open - meaning his thinking and behaviour will be molded by this. People clearly want to hear the truth out of his mouth, he's a coward - he's afraid of the ramifications of sharing the truth. He hasn't shown he's grown up. If he wants to lead, becoming skillful at self-awareness/growth and relationship building is key.


>>> I want a leader who's transparent, open - honest.

You're not gonna find that in the Holywood drama movie of said leader.


True - not when they are ashamed of their actions and feel the need to hide their past.


Might wanna double space those chat logs :)


Oops, thanks for pointing that out :)


> Says all there needs to be said, about his ability to have a real conversation on his own platform.

I'm going with "people on Facebook think he needs to go out on a 'listening tour' so he did".


How do people working at FB feel about spending their time building a huge advertising engine, compared to working at, say, Tesla? Genuinely curious!


People working at Facebook and Google lie to themselves that they're doing something important while working for a "cool" tech company. They're ignorant to the fact that these companies make their entire revenue from advertisements.


They're not ignorant. They either don't care, or don't see source of revenue as the defining quality of their work.


Or, like me, they just don't find the idea of making money from advertisements to be unethical in the slightest. (To be clear, I don't work for either Facebook or Google.)


I dont get the hate on standard advertisements. I'd prefer to be targeted with ads relevant to me like camping gear rather than things irrelevant like kids toys.

As long as we avoid physiological tricks like the flashing of frames you can't consciously see type thing (I know that is questionable to having an effect) its a good thing. I get shown products/services I might like to buy, in return I get free emails, news and videos etc. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.


I would prefer to be targeted with ads relevant to me but I have yet to see that happen. The closest I've seen to that goal is seeing Amazon ads for stuff I just bought.


A marketer that knows their business will place exclusions via order confirmation pages but people often seem to forgo this. Such a waste of budget!


It is more than the source of revenue. For starters, it is the gathering of everyone's private conversations. They are working at an exceptionally disturbing place. I imagine they just convince themselves they are doing good. Humans easily convince themselves of things that benefit them.


"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" -Upton Sinclair


I used to work at Intel and then Microsoft during the anti-trust years. We were totally oblivious to what mgmt did and were quite happy to accept the company line. It was after all delivered by nice respectable people and we were getting paid well.

Also realized engineers are not revolutionaries. We like to work on things that a textbook talks about. The kind of problems these articles talk about most engineers have no idea how to solve. And it's in our nature to say so and shrink away from such problem.

Look at Elon Musk today talking about how depressing it would be not to goto space. Poverty and War are depressing too but Engineers know how to build rockets better than they know how to address poverty and peace.

What ends up happening is the space we shrink away from gets filled with characters who don't know what they are doing. They compensate by pandering to the public and buying time mostly for themselves to retire to a nice little island.

Having said all that as an Engineer reaching his retirement I feel quite disappointed in the culture we have left behind for the next generation.


Another real problem is the willful ignorance of all things political. As if there isn't a political dimension to almost everything we do. Engineers as a rule have a lot of leverage, small changes in what we make have huge consequences in the real world and a bit of understanding about how the two are coupled would go a long way towards making this a better world. It would also at times require engineers to take a stand and I suspect that that is what drives the willful ignorance. After all it is much easier to do something inherently bad if you can pretend there are no real world consequences.


> It would also at times require engineers to take a stand and I suspect that that is what drives the willful ignorance.

It's easy to take a stand when you either have a lot of sway or you're a critical component. It's not so easy when you've got people to feed and there are 100 people in line to take your spot.

In an ideal world, engineers and developers alike could really reshape a lot of business practices. For example, developers could say no to creating dark patterns, and engineers could say no to building with substandard parts. Both could say no to unrealistic deadlines that force shoddy workmanship and ugly shortcuts. Too bad that if you won't do it, someone else will gladly do it in your place.

The only way to realistically do it is to put up with it, and then change the culture of the company once you've gotten high enough in the chain. That can take years, and there is no guaranteed payoff. Of course, the other method is to create a union, a coalition of developers, or even an external organization (the EFF, Wikileaks) to back up developers or apply pressure. Doing that is a monumental task in and of itself.

I am not disagreeing with you. In fact, I encourage this behavior. It's hard for a lot of people to do it in practice though.


> It's not so easy when you've got people to feed and there are 100 people in line to take your spot.

This is true for exactly 0 engineers at Google and Facebook. Every single one of them could easily find another job if they wanted to leave.

I think you guys seriously need to consider the possibility that these people are actually OK with what they're doing and simply have different values and priorities than you do.


While that is true:

> It's hard for a lot of people to do it in practice though.

The world of development exists outside of the tech giants. There are more people doing dev work outside of those giant companies that are still making an impact.

I don't deny that there can be apathy. Some people show up, do what they're told, and collect money without regards as to what they're doing.


Well, that may be true, but we're specifically talking about Google and Facebook here.

> I don't deny that there can be apathy

I'm not talking about apathy, I'm talking about actually understanding and being OK with what you're doing. Google and Facebook have just short of 90,000 employees between them (not all of them engineers, of course) - it's extremely misanthropic to assume that they are all either apathetic or consciously doing evil.

A very large number of people understand and are largely perfectly OK with the substance of what Facebook and Google are doing.


Not if they're on an H1B.


It's too late. We have universities pumping out tens of thousands of C.S. graduates every year in the United States alone. Sure they aren't all amazing but it isn't that hard to implement most dark patterns within say, a Django environment. Even in the most important space machine learning is having it's barrier to entry halved every five years and eventually most small machine learning tasks will be done with only minimal training.


A union of developers is a good idea IMO. Developer's are well compensated for their work (generally) - but it's common to hear how their ideas are suppressed.

I've been thinking a lot recently about Xerox PARC - a unique situation where smart people were given a wide degree of latitude, and the result was they came up with some world-changing things.

I understand that businesses have a legitimate right to work toward their end (the bottom line) - but in this rapidly changing world I think responsible people need to step up and say "enough is enough, we make these things, and here's how WE want to make them."


Never in the history of the world has there been an industry in which it was easier to set out on your own and make things the way YOU want to.


I don't disagree but that's not the point - the point is there is room for improvement, particularly at large organizations (which still have the most impact on the world).

Even at startups - the incentives are such that oftentimes user privacy is compromised. The economic model of ads supporting software is profitable but is it really the way we want to work?

Unfortunately we may be too far down this road. People don't generally want/expect to pay for software. I think this is limiting and troublesome in the long term.


People do pay for software that is worth it and when there are no serious alternatives.

For example, developers do pay for MS toolkit despite alternatives. Certain architects and designers pay for Autodesk software. Or 3D modelling even despite existence of Blender. There are quite a few of music software options that are strictly paid. Higher end video authoring software. Numeric and statistical packages. Electronics design and simulation software. Games... Heck, people still pay for office suites.

What we don't see is people paying for CRUD as much as they used to.

What matters is that the software in question is truly great for doing something, competition is not to big and that the enterprise users ultimately catch on. Of course few start-ups want to tangle with that.


Um, could you give some specific/concrete examples of what you mean, when speaking of this leverage? I honestly have no slightest idea of what you may have in your mind here, and am totally curious - at least as long as we're talking, I assume, about legit/ethical/morally acceptable actions? (Also please note I'm not in US, though I presume it's not relevant to this discussion.)


Engineers build small things that have huge impacts. The Linux kernel, the ARM core, the internal combustion engine, the atomic bomb.

As a profession, software engineers have very weak ethical standards. We have no Hippocratic oath, we have no iron ring. We might not be happy about it, but we'll release code that we know to be dangerously buggy, we'll cooperate with surveillance agencies, we'll design systems that exploit users, we'll build products that are sold to the governments of Saudi Arabia or Libya.

If software engineers were collectivised, we could refuse to do all of this shady stuff. Any software engineer tasked with doing something unethical could simply say "I'm not doing that, I'd lose my license". By establishing a professional body equivalent to the Bar Association or the General Medical Council, we could throw a giant wrench in the machinery of evil.


Hmm; so maybe I just misunderstood the original post at first, this or the fact that I'm already trying hard to take into account ethics in what I do as much as I can, so no big change for me? I dunno; still not quite convinced by this interpretation. I understand and endorse the idea of "picking who you work for" (though sometimes it's very nontrivial, esp. in context of big companies/corporations). I just thought that maybe the fragment about "a lot of leverage" and "small changes in what we make have huge consequences" was alluding to some other idea. Personally, I have extremely hard time seeing me choosing a different employer as "a lot of leverage" or "huge consequences [for the world]". I feel it's only a very small, though potentially at least nonzero, leverage and consequences for the world (I imagine someone else with weaker spine will hire for a particular position anyway), but in my perception notable (positive) consequences for feeling of personal integrity, though potentially (but not necessarily) at a cost for personal material situation.


Web developers of today are like the early printing press owners/operators.


I would say it depends on your position in your place of work, but there are multiple examples of this. I prefer historical ones, say for example NANP (the North American Numbering Plan).

I'm not sure what country you're in, but here, these 10 digit numbers and their various prefixes (NPAs AKA "area codes") are literally burned into the consciousness of most citizens, without them even realizing it. Additionally, all modern cellular services here are still following it in some sense or other, making it an example of highly entrenched technical debt. I'm pretty sure that the design of this system bled heavily into most other countries' telephone networks as well.

A small number of engineers probably drew up this plan on a chalkboard in the 1940s at AT&T, without a clue as to the magnitude of future ramifications.


Levarage. Enginners are generally upper middle class. Being in the middle class alone gives you vastly more freedom (ergo power) than someone who has to actively care for his needs (as oposed to surplus). More importantly, their education is above average, which is not the same as institutional education (but still somewhat correlated), meaning they'll have a better ability to analyse of what's happening, better comprehension of how change (positive and negative) happened in the past, etc. Relative leverage is relative freedom and awareness.


Agreed. Indifference to politics (by someone intelligent enough to have meaningful choices, obviously) is the ultimate privilege, resting as it does on the assurance that one is unlikely to suffer any kind of personal inconvenience.

My wife has an electrical engineering degree and she had to take ethics courses and pass an exam in them as part of her credentialing process, which in turn shaped her career decisions significantly. I find it troubling that ethics are not considered a very important topic in software development or indeed many spheres of business activity.

It's not that I expect people to necessarily share my opinions; what distresses me is that many arguments I encounter from contrary positions are so utterly shallow that you can tell the person hasn't really thought about such issues very much. Positivism has a great deal to answer for.


> Poverty and War are depressing too but Engineers know how to build rockets better than they know how to address poverty and peace.

Colonizing Mars would require engineers to develop more than just rockets. At some point political-economic models of colonies would have to be developed, in order to determine whether colonies will be economically sustainable without subsidies from Earth. Asking people to imagine how these colonies should be organized, and how to measure whether they will be economically sustainable, requires them to consider economic and political ideas which could be later applied to the problems of poverty and political instability on Earth.

One potential model that could work well for Mars in order to reduce political tensions between competing colonies and to establish a clear and efficient mechanism for financing territorial public services is cellular democracy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellular_democracy


Great link. Reminded me of the - in German - Concept of the 'Räterepublik'. Often called Soviet System without actually referring to the real Soviet State. Sadly the English Wikipedia isn't that great on this topic. But it actually describes the same concept.


I don't work at either company but I MUST disagree.

I can't imagine something that has had the positive impact on my education and entertainment like google.

Take youtube alone- if google did nothing else, they've enabled a infinite compendium of how-tos on almost every topic imaginable to everyone on the planet, free of charge.

That is _amazing_.


Bear in mind, Google did not develop YouTube, and YouTube was incredibly popular long before Google got involved. Google purchased YouTube. Their own video posting service, Google Video, is barely remembered today.


How quickly we forget... Youtube would have gone bankrupt if Google hadn't purchased them. The company was derided for the purchase and YT bled money for several years before it was made profitable. Maybe someone else would have come along and built the copyright detection algorithms, advertising platform, edge caching solutions, and so on, but the list of companies that could possibly do that was incredibly short at the time.


Putting Facebook aside, how can you possibly not think Google is doing important things?


I don't think that point can be contested. But I do think Google is hoarding information in an irresponsible way. The bottom line is they do not have ultimate control of that data, the government does. Maybe not today but look what happened in Turkey, what is the integrity of every good meaning tech company in Turkey? There is not much you can do to protect your customers data when tanks roll up at the door. We might not use tanks in the US like that but we certainly have men in suits.


Okay, let's look at the alternative, let's assume groups of 10-20 people run a "private" server for themselves and so on.

Then the government can easily target those, just go and hack, or confiscate the server that has the stuff of key opposition people. And no one will even know. Sure, those people, that 10 people will. But that's it. No one else will notice. Yes, a newspaper might write about it, and what?

Now, if Gmail disappears, people notice.

And Google has a very competent security team. Small groups don't and won't.


So you're arguing Google is better then the alternative smaller search provider that would likely exist in its absence? If so I agree with you. My point is in support of the idea that engineers at Facebook and Google have a false sense of altruism towards their employer. I wanted to dispute the idea that Google's work is so important that they are excused of the largest role they play in our society: as data miners.


That's of course the 1 Googleplex dollar question, what about the data. Currently FB/Google/Apple/MS (and now Amazon with Echo/Dash and(!) AWS) has a lot of data in one basket. And all of those baskets happen to be in the USA basket. (And of course there are also a few big basket things, but those are in China, and that's already a bad place for baskets.)

And so far Apple choose to sort of stand up for data protection. Google too, tries to do things securely (project zero, fuzzing, and so on) and fight NSLs and whatevers to a certain point. MS also went to court against DoJ over gag orders.

But what does that mean when they'll face a very underhanded administration, where things will just have to be done, when boots on the door first and you can maybe win in court later. (See also retroactive immunity, see also how long it took to stop "accumulating" maybe-terrorists in Guantanamo.)

But we also forget how bad other places have it. I've already mentioned China, but Turkey and Russia is the poster child for how things are going when you appoint friends to every position for more than 10 years, they have an incentive to please you and automatically side with you (and we haven't even talked about the obscene amount of money disappearing in the pockets of those friends).

People died because of money and conservative/fundamentalist ideology in Russia with the total blessing of the state/regime (I like the phrase `power structure` better.)

All in all, I think worrying about data is laughable, because when they are coming for data, a lot more is already long lost. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=VK_(social_networ... ) - that is people have to be vigilantly scrutinizing every other actor in a democracy, not just data miners (data-enhanced service providers), anyhow, to keep them honest.


If Google wasn't there, other companies would be doing those things. Arguably, I think most of Google's competitors, doing those things as well, have more ethical business models.

I also think the amount of important things Google is doing has decreasing drastically. Chrome is the last major completely-in-house product I recall Google has released, that wasn't sourced from an acquisition. (That isn't to say acquisitions don't count for anything, but clearly they were able to develop their special sauce outside of Google, so Google is not required to do that thing.)


People working at New York Times and Washington Post lie to themselves that they're doing something important while working for a "cool" news company. They're ignorant to the fact that these companies make their entire revenue from advertisements.


Yep its cognitive dissonance. We can easily believe anything if it makes us feel better about ourselves.


Money's a helluva drug.


Barring this incident, is it wrong to earn revenue from advertisements?


Advertisements run the entire modern industry.


Not working for Facebook, but while their business is an advertising engine, let's not pretend they do not offer something else to their users. Social media has changed the way our society works, how families, politics and friendships work, and Facebook played a big part in that. Maybe that's all just a byproduct, but that does not mean it is not an substantial contribution to society. Tesla is cool and does an important job, but it's not like they are the only people moving us forward.


Social media has changed the way our society works, how families, politics and friendships work, and Facebook played a big part in that.

The problem is that we do not know what we would have gotten instead. Before Facebook (et al.) became big, more of my regular friends/family were on Jabber/XMPP. People were creating blogs that were not locked in a silo (Wordpress and Blogger were quite usable for non-experts). Etc.


Ah I remember the days of AIM/ICQ/LiveJournal. I actually was connected more to my friends and even made a lot of serendiptious friendships with people halfway around the world.

Now with facebook, I lost touch with people who refuse to be on FB(privacy concerns).

And forget about making friends with strangers on Facebook (gasp!)


Back before Facebook, people were using MySpace, and relatively few of my non-techie friends were using LiveJournal and Xanga to create their own independent blogs, though I imagine today's equivalent is Tumblr. Neither of those are particularly "independent". I don't think a lot of normal people would've gotten into Wordpress or Blogger, though AIM was quite popular at the time.


I was just planning a road trip and googling around for blog posts. Could not find a single blog link on the first 3 pages Google returned. It was just one travel ratingsite/aggregator after another. Sad state of affairs.


Indeed. A lot of research has become impossible. We were in the market for a car. And when you want to Google technical details, you have to wade through pages of useless aggregators.

Slightly offtopic: we found that checking out Geocaches in an area on the Geocaching website is a pretty good way of finding interesting spots/places. Especially highly-rated caches and Earth caches.


And if you would have found a blog the probability would have been high that reviews would have been bought or were at least sprinkled with affiliate links.


Just because they've changed something, doesn't mean it's positive as your making out.

Secondly, I've seen engineers running around with Facebook shirts on with the slogan "Connect the world" written on them, I would find it irritating if I couldn't see the irony in it, instead I just find it funny.

There is a lot of cognitive bias happening with people working there. They wave big money carrots to keep staff and I feel for some people it's a way of validating their ability, so they stay no matter what impact the product is having on society, even if they don't agree with it inside.


> Social media has changed the way our society works

Change is not positive per-se. It can be just as easily negative. I had a Facebook account for exactly two weeks and realized this wasn't an improvement over what I already had. I much prefer quality over quantity when it comes to personal relationships and Facebook really does not satisfy that for me. Besides them being absolutely creepy about the way they position themselves and use the mountains of data they gather about people.

On top of that Zuckerberg seems a thoroughly despicable person which doesn't help in trusting the company that he leads.


Eric Schmidt makes Zuckerberg look like the idealized version of Mother Teresa.


Google is just as evil as Facebook, but they are more of a Tech darling (unless you have worked at both, Facebook just completely blows Google out of the water as a nicer place to work)


Facebook is the new Goldman, the new McKinsey. Collectively, they're robbing the greatest minds of my generation in the pursuit of totally trivial, but profitable, goals.


I would say a substantial effect, but would not consider it a "contribution".

Livestreaming a murder is not progress.


Hi, I work as an engineer at Google rather than Facebook, but I'll address this and some of the sub-comments (one of which mentioned Google). I am not speaking on behalf of Google.

I actually work for a department that has non- advertising revenue, but regarding ads, a ton of companies, even many startups here on HN, generate revenue from ads. Regardless of revenue, many of Google's products are clearly very high quality. There's no social network lockin for gmail as a webmail client or Google maps as a map client but they're still perceived as the best.

Google is truly flexible about hours and as long as I get my work done, communicate with the team and attend meetings I can effectively work any schedule I want (Microsoft actually had a similarly lax environment, one of my former team members there worked roughly noon-8), which for me varies day-to-day based on my non work schedule. This is great compared to a company I worked at where they one decreed that everyone solve bugs "after hours" (unsurprisingly many employees would just sit on the bugs and then mark them as fixed right after five). Free meals (along with microkitchens) are very convenient, and it is highly frowned upon to be in the office long enough for both breakfast and dinner. There's a gym right in the building and beds if I feel like taking a nap. I can't speak for the main campus in California, but my office is in an urban area so I am not isolated from my interests and I don't need to own a car. If I have an appointment for something at 3pm I won't be impeded assuming I don't have a meeting around then.

Although many interesting projects are limited to the main campus, there's still a decent variety of work here as we have 1000+ employees in the office. The development tools+environment are not perfect but give me fewer problems than anywhere else I've worked. The main downside is that things can get bureaucratic at times which is the nature of giant organizations, although I never feel pressured by PMs. Sometimes the company's internal self promotion gets a bit silly as well but it's relatively easy to ignore.

Tesla+SpaceX seem neat but to work there I'd have to move to the West Coast, which I'm not interested in. Most of the financial industry would require me to be at work by nine and/or require me to wear some sort of specific attire, along with a lower variety of work and likely more stress. Many startups offer the same perks in theory but have extremely long hours in practice and the unspoken expectation that you socialize almost exclusively within the startup.

Basically I'm treated more like a human than I would be at many other companies, so when I'm looking to change what I work on, I'd rather look internally than externally.


I do not want to be too snarky, but your comment highlights the mindset that is criticised here (the lack of ethics among engineers in SV).

a ton of companies, even many startups here on HN, generate revenue from ads

'The rest does it as well, so it can't be wrong.'

There's no social network lockin for gmail as a webmail client

Except if you want to use a competing service or run your own mail server. Then you cannot deliver to Google Mail, you cannot find out why Google Mail does not accept your mail, you cannot contact Google to whitelist you. Moreover, as a non-Google Mail user I cannot opt out of my mail being scanned for advertising purposes. And no, I cannot just avoid sending to Google Mail addresses, some people forward their e-mail to Google Mail.

Google [...] easy to ignore.

The parent asks what it feels like to use your intellectual capacity to build an advertising machine that in the end aims to know as much as possible about every person with an internet connection. Your answer is, 'look here, perks'? Really?!?

I mean, questions like 'What if we ever got a dictator? He/she would have a field day with all the data that we are collecting.' or 'Isn't my company stepping over the bounds what is permitted by privacy laws to gain more ad profit?' must cross the minds of a Google engineer sometimes, I hope? And doesn't it feel bad to be complicit of constructing what is one of the largest spying machines?


I guess I just don't see making money from advertisements as an indictment of an organization. They are free to attempt to show ads, just as users are free to block them, and you can stop using their products should you find a better one. An example of a corporation I would never work for would be Nestle, which has caused death and dependency with their products in Africa.

Email providers (Google, Microsoft, your ISP, or even Yahoo) having access to your email is the very nature of unencrypted email unless you expect everyone to run their own mail servers. And non-gmail users can definitely send email to gmail users; I've definitely sent email from an organization I worked at that used Outlook+Exchange to my personal gmail acocunt. I have also had scripts that sent out email from a (now defunct) website in the past and really had not issue getting email accepted once I set up reverse DNS, but admittedly that was many years ago.

"Easy to ignore" just meant easy to ignore internal corporate-speak bullshit, similar internal buzzwords that I've seen at every company I've worked at of any size.

A dictator could already gain control of any communications platform in theory, such as your phone company. In fact, the NSA already does spy on communications in the US (and probably abroad). Does that mean nobody should ever work for a communications-based company?


They are free to attempt to show ads, just as users are free to block them, and you can stop using their products should you find a better one.

You cannot trivially opt out of Google tracking you or your environment. To give some examples:

- Google reads all my e-mail sent to a Google Mail user to build advertising profiles.

- Google Analytics is used by many websites and can be used by Google to track users' movements around the web. Obviously, ads can be used for the same purposes.

- Google snoops access points and maps them to GPS positions. It's not opt-in, but you have to opt-out by adding _nomap to your SSID. To make this even more annoying, Microsoft has different requirements to opt out of their tracking.

- Google snaps photos of my house, street, car without ever asking permission and puts them online. Applies machine learning to extract data. Unfortunately, we cannot know what data.

A lot of things that Google does are incredibly offensive privacy violations (even if not by law), but it is hard or impossible to opt out of them.

Does that mean nobody should ever work for a communications-based company?

There are also communication companies with moral values and that try to avoid collecting and retaining as much possible data and metadata. (Fastmail, Protonmail, Signal, XS4All, to just name a few).

I would also like to point out that there is a huge difference between (1) a dictator can monitor all your traffic from this point in time (ISP with short log retention) and (2) a dictator can scan virtually behaviour data of the last decade to see whether someone was gay, communicated with a leftist group, or whatever 'crime' one can commit.

At any rate, 'others do it too' is a terrible argument. A lot of humans do a lot of terrible things. That does not mean that we do not have to strive for a more reasonable world.


> Applies machine learning to extract data.

Not only machines are let loose on that data. Ever try to open some websites through a VPN or Tor? Often you'll be presented with Google's Recaptcha tool to verify that you are not a robot but a genuine human visitor (to prevent spam and DDOS attacks). To gain access to the website itself you are enlisted to train Google's algorithms to properly recognize objects on outdoor photographs — including but not limited to mountains, store fronts, house numbers, and cars.

A recent 'innovation' has you freehand draw the outline of traffic signs.

All unpaid labour, all for a huge proprietary dataset.

The old Recaptcha system of proofreading OCR scanned words from books at least had some public merit.


> I guess I just don't see making money from advertisements as an indictment of an organization.

It's not just making money from ads like an old-school newspaper did, it's 1) collecting so much data about people, 2) using it to crank the existing evil of ads (they're often highly asymmetric psychological warfare, after all) up to 11 with targeting, 3) sucking the air out of the room for privacy-respecting services with non-spying business models, 4) a bit more mundane than those other problems, but, extortion—I sure see a lot of ads for exactly the company/site I was obviously searching for at the top of my search results, and this is due to putting ads inline with search results, which forces companies to buy ads for searches that are clearly specifically for them. The inline, top-of-results ads are misleading to users and force "protection money" out of companies.


> I guess I just don't see making money from advertisements as an indictment of an organization

5) To protect ad revenue, its changing the nature of the web. Who the fuck is Google to decide whether guest blogging is or is not a good thing? So, Google is not really smart enough to figure out how to rank websites when real people get together and collude to improve their chances in the game. I suppose they would rather just deal with non-human websites than the humans who are the source of those websites.

1. Which makes the following statement really ironic "I'm treated more like a human than I would be at many other companies" 2. It is probably a signal that perhaps the "product" is not "clearly very high quality", but rather is just somewhat better than the next best one, so instead of saying "We are too dumb to figure it out", their story was "people are manipulating things behind our backs and since there is such a big human component, we are being misled".

Hmmm...so some humans are getting together behind closed doors to game the system, and this is upsetting the tech giants? So how should the rest of the population feel when they ask themselves the same question about what is happening within the walls of the tech giants' offices as they make a ton of sneaky decisions which is causing a lot of problems for people's privacy?

I once made a suggestion on this forum to compile every publicly known piece of information about all the employees at Google and Facebook (and while you are at it, why not Amazon and Microsoft?), and release it as a Kaggle [1] dataset for data mining and see how they would feel about it. Are there colleagues involved in secret relationships? Boy, I would sure enjoy knowing it just as much as GooFace likes to triangulate information about me. Are there folks who are actively supporting Donald Trump every time they can while putting on a liberal face within the organizations? Hey, I think it would be great fun to out them to their colleagues and sit back and watch the show.

Someone retorted that I am threatening "doxing". Oh yes, let us all be sure to be very respectful of the same people who don't think there is anything wrong with not giving us the same respect.

The ire directed at these organizations is well deserved, and well earned.

[1] Yeah, so Google acquired Kaggle. Just release it someplace else.


So basicly the perks are nice while creating the Death Star, and working at Tesla/SpaceX etc. Would require effort..


Lest we allow Tesla to be used as the example of a good company...

Tesla refuses to really treat owners of their cars like owners of their cars. Tesla remote pulls data from individual peoples' cars to defend themselves in press releases. If you try and interface with your Tesla, Tesla will call and threaten you. Even if you own the title to a Tesla, they may refuse to activate your car under certain circumstances. Teslas use their self-driving sensors to relay all of your driving data back to Tesla even if you didn't purchase the self-driving add-on. Some cars are sold with part of their battery capacity software disabled unless you pay to unlock it. And Tesla only allows access to its repair manual in the one state they're legally forced to... for $30 an hour to look at it online. There's also juvenile stuff like Tesla refusing to sell a car to a guy who wrote a negative comment about them online.

This is a company which has a vastly distorted view of car "ownership" considering the incredible cost people pay to "own" one.

I like a lot of what Elon Musk is doing, but some of the ways his car company behaves is as unethical as Google or Facebook.


I prefer not to rearrange my life for my job if I don't have to. I relocated for Microsoft in the past but I like my current location and am uninterested in relocating for a company again. People as a whole should resist being pushed around by employers.

On the topic, Elon Musk was involved in the creation of PayPal, which arbitrarily takes cash from people while bypassing bank regulations, yet many (both of us included apparently) have no inherent problem working for a Musk company.


Fb employees likely see their work in a much more positive light, i.e. fostering community and strong social ties between billions of people.


Strong social ties? Strong social ties is what you find in places that don't have internet.


You don't have to be actually fostering strong social ties to believe you are.


Exactly. I sure haven't seen an improvement in community or social ties thanks to facebook. It is funny how Mark Zuckerberg seems to think he is doing something good for the world, at least according to his speeches.


I have. Facebook became big just around the time I graduated from college. I don't know how it was for people older than me, or the kids afterward, but Facebook let us make the kind of "weak" connections that became strong. I'm talking about high school classmates whom in past generations, would have only re-connected by staying in the same town, or at the 10th-year reunion. During FB's initial worldwide rollout, it was exciting to just "friend" everyone whom you had an acquaintance, because it wasn't yet taboo or uncool to do so. Some of my best friends today are people who I never talked to at all in high school, or even strongly disliked. When Facebook reconnected us all as post-college adults, I realized it was dumb to let past high school cliqueyness get in the way of a good friendship.

Sure, ideally this gets worked out in heartfelt conversations in person. But the thing is that you don't prioritize those kinds of past relationships, because the friction of reconnecting is substantial. Facebook lowered that connection cost, while also making it easier to communicate with close friends.


>> During FB's initial worldwide rollout, it was exciting to just "friend" everyone whom you had an acquaintance, because it wasn't yet taboo or uncool to do so.

>> ideally this gets worked out in heartfelt conversations in person

So, you agree that

a) there was indeed a novelty factor at that time to reconnecting on Facebook (i.e. you were actually glad to take an action without Facebook's constant nagging) and

b) you also go on to hint that your definition of weak connection is "it still is only via Facebook" which became strong because you moved on to have better relationships "outside of Facebook"

Neither of these things are true anymore. The Facebook of 2017 is nothing like the Facebook of about 10 years ago.

And most people are going in the opposite direction of what you are observing. Example: have you ever heard someone tell another person who doesn't happen to be on Facebook about some major event in their life by saying "Oh I did announce it on Facebook (or WhatsApp). Didn't you see it?" If you haven't, good job, you actually selected excellent people to be friends with.

The "friction" is actually the thing which makes the difference. From your profile, I see you are a professor. Which kind of learning is better? The one where the student experiences a lot of friction, and learns the subject very well? Or the one where the student watches flashy videos and goes away feeling all gung-ho, only to realize nothing stuck?

Sure, you don't want things to be harder just for the sake of being harder. And neither do you want to diss things which are lowering the friction of connecting. The problem is all the manipulation going on in the name of lowering friction.

If at some point you say "Well, but Facebook also needs to make money", then you can already see the problem with the entire business model by your own admission. Because then you know there is no line which shouldn't and wouldn't be crossed - including selling out your already immature teenage audience.

Conversely, if the demand for such a connecting service is so huge, there would already be a paid alternative promising a lot of privacy in return for payment.


I don't think Tesla is any better. It is a continued attempt to move the world in a direction it cannot go. There is no technological way out of the modern world's problems. Personally, I hate computers yet work everyday because I need money. There is no good feeling about what I do.


Pays the mortgage. And its better than working for Wall St, the NSA, Indian body shop or random chaotic startup.


Does not pay as well as Wall Street. Not sure which one is less ethical, though. Also, both provide useful services but destroy a lot of the ecosystem they operate in.


Probably less pressure and bureaucracy than Wall Street though


Finance and the internet giants both cover a wide range of pay and a wide range of bureaucracy.

The top end of both domains pay rather well and has moderate bureaucracy.


Depends where you're at. Levandowski got paid $120 million, IIRC? Obviously an edge case, but it's hard to imagine an engineer in Wall Street making that much.

(And he may never work again after this scandal runs through... but he also probably will never truly need to work again anyways.)


The original headline was potentially misleading.

> Update, 5/1 12:12 p.m.: Facebook has issued a statement disputing The Australian's report. "The premise of the article is misleading," the company wrote in its authorless statement. "Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state. The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook. It was never used to target ads and was based on data that was anonymous and aggregated."


Given the level of detail in the Australian article (or what we can see quoted from it; the original seems to be not easily available at the moment), and FB's past behavior[2], I'm not sure I believe their denial at this stage, quite frankly. We'll know for sure when the original presentation that the article refers to inevitably leeks out in full.

[1] According to the Australian, the data available to advertisers includes a young user’s relationship status, location, number of friends on the platform and how often they access the site on mobile or desktop. The newspaper reported that Facebook also has information on users who are discussing “looking good and body confidence” and “working out & losing weight”.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-...


>The newspaper reported that Facebook also has information on users who are discussing “looking good and body confidence” and “working out & losing weight”

What's wrong with that exactly?

Is that any different than an option to advertise to people who are talking about buying cars?


Because it's creepy.

More specifically: it explicitly attempts to address a particular mental and psychological states (in particular, states associated with anxiety and the need for approval from others) rather than an economic activity (like "needs a car").

Yes, car ads (and all kind of ads) have implicitly been designed to work off feelings of anxiety (and the need to fit i), since the beginning of time. But it's the all-out brazenness off this effort (combined with the fact that, again, it was explicitly designed to target teenagers) that pushes it over the edge, in my view -- and well into the terrain of Creepy.


So, facebook was paid for data on users' poor emotional state.

And facebook experimented with adjusting news feeds to make people feel better or worse. https://duckduckgo.com/?q=facebook+news+feed+experiment&t=lm...

I wonder how much it would cost to have facebook make people feel bad, and then serve them ads to which they would be more susceptible because of their low state.


I'm sure there is already a price for that


I hoped they did it to prove themselves that advertisers will use such capabilities to take advantage of innocent filterless future consumers, but that would require a diametrically inverse interpretation of results. Having worked in advertising, I feel we should have heavy-handed restrictions with regard to advertising to minors. Given the potential for abuse, I would recommend enforcing equal restrictions on targeting based on the current emotional state. Irrational decisions are the motor of many successful marketing campaigns (things like anchor pricing are the norm). Letting advertisers sophisticate the message according to the customers emotional state, is like giving sudo privilege to a bitlocker. The metrics on their dashboards do not include morals. We have to stay on top of this.


From the article, it just looks like a misunderstanding; this was at worst a proposal and most likely the weird/inappropriate "Facebook Research" that gets occasionally reported. It's easy to find out what controls are available to advertisers: just open up an ad campaign on Facebook [1].

1. https://www.facebook.com/business/news/ads-manager-app


Zuckerberg was talking about all these programs to protect people at risk. I guess this is what he really meant. If you can find people at risk, then you can exploit them.


What should we think about the future, where nobody is making the decision to target teens' with specific emotional state, but instead the machine makes the decision?

I see this as inevitable - probably something that is already happening to some extend. Let's assume you are advertising something where the target action takes place online. Something where you can establish a direct connection between the events "Person A sees ad" and "Person A buys product". Assuming the volumes are high enough, why would you put human in charge for targeting the ads? Why not just put the machines to work, to analyse the thousands weak signals your platform is collecting about each individual and then determine which ads are most likely to result in purchase. If the sale takes place through your own platform you have pretty nice feedback loop there.

The machine of course does not think "hey, this person is depressed, let's sell him some Happy Pills" but the end result is likely the same. Machine learns some patterns in behavior which indicate the person is likely to be interested in Happy Pills. Is this good or bad?


I can't say whether it's good or bad but I definitely can say I don't want to live in a world like that.


> a representative for Facebook Australia issued a formal and lengthy apology, saying in part, "We have opened an investigation to understand the process failure and improve our oversight. We will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate."

What did they mean by that, oversight by whom?


Oversight by whoever dared leak this.


Kudos to the leaker. I am quite happy to contribute to a patreon page or the ACLU or whoever that makes sure these whistle blowers are taken care off.


Repeat after me: "If I don't pay for the product I am the product."

Teaching this to schoolkids is necessary for public mental health.

I'm sure FB, like gouging pharmaceutical companies, employs risk managers who plan just how far they can go with this sort of thing and still get away with "issuing a formal and lengthy apology."


This is true. Some on HN call it out as "trite" or not exactly 100% technically correct, but the phrase re-focuses attention on a dangerous situation.

trite (1 week ago; gray): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14181650

original/oldest source? (2010) https://twitter.com/andlewis/status/24380177712

updated for machine learning: https://twitter.com/chrisalbon/status/857609299731791872

> “You are the training data.”


Myself, I always recognized it from Chomsky's old quote about the mainstream media (1993):

> Whether they're called 'liberal' or 'conservative,' the major media are large corporations, owned by and interlinked with even larger conglomerates. Like other corporations, they sell a product to a market. The market is advertisers — that is, other businesses. The product is audiences.


You're often still the product even when you pay for the product.


That's why they didn't say "Iff I don't pay for the product [...]"


I'm experimenting with building a subscription based social network: https://postbelt.com - basically to entirely step over the 'you are the product' problem and offer the type of social network I actually want to exist.

Check it out if it sounds interesting!


I would suggest an idea review - limiting the number of connections for a free account - this won't fly. You are solving the problem, that is well known in the tech world, but you are not solving problems of average users.


I simply see it as the easiest on-ramp to the social network I want to exist, actually getting some momentum. What would fly?


I'm curious if you've looked at some of your predecessors(?):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/App.net

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path_(social_network)

Edit: Aslo, why not just piggy back on GNUSocial/status/pumpio/etc.? Having a node that can be federated if/when the owner (i.e. you) wants to seems more scalable.


Either invent some non-intrusive advertising method or go after CPM. Paying for the social network in 90% will fail in the current environment. If you want some free counselling from marketing veteran, hit me up.


I wanted to see what it looks like without registering. But I couldn't get an idea of how much activity there is, what functionality there is, etc. without first creating an account.


Thanks for this feedback. Would images on the landing page be enough?

As for activity, it's minimal at the moment :-) But you can invite friends easily by sending them a personalised link that'll connect them to you as soon as they sign up, either just copy-pasted into a chat app or via email straight from the site.


Thanks for this feedback. Would images on the landing page be enough?

Definitely!


Done. Thanks again!


Can't you just, like, make it free and just add very dumb ads, and few enough to be worth it ? Nobody (meaning mainstream people) will pay.


I think the utility of it looks more like a step function than linear - the moment you introduce ads, the incentives start to spiral very quickly against the user's interests and I see no way to offer the best of both.

I've said for years that if something like this existed, I would pay for it, and a few people (not all) have agreed. It's basically a test of that, and if it's completely untrue, that's fine, but I'm also very happy with it not being mainstream or particularly profitable. As long as server costs are covered and I and everyone else is getting the UX they want out of it, it's fulfilled its mission.


The idea I had is to let users monetize their own data, as in by default there are no ads or tracking, but if you choose you can turn them on and get paid to do so (and the site takes a percentage of that money). It could easily grow into a platform for users to monetize and sell other types of content that they create too, like photos, videos, stories, etc.


That's very interesting, but obviously very difficult to bootstrap. As long as it didn't, in any way, impact the UX of anyone else on the platform, it could fit in and be workable. I guess working out those details is the difficult part, and I've chosen to go with a simpler approach.


Isn't that how we got to where we are in the first place? It starts with dumb ads, then advertisers want more value for their $ spent, which becomes targeted ads


Yes, exactly. Any ads at all start sucking the model into a positive (negative?) feedback loop. The best approach to avoid that is the principled one: just say no.

The question is, is that sustainable. Well, that's the experiment. Let's see if it works!


Facebook is the biggest pimp in the world, and the billions of users are prostitutes.

Except it's more about eyeballs and likes than genitals and cash.

Both real pimps and Facebook don't care if their product has cheap viral content (venereal disease/fake news) as long as they make a buck.

Ad blockers are the condoms of the internet.


All kids feel worthless at some time. This is evil.


To all those who supposedly "show they care" by "keeping in touch" with "folks from around the world" (as a reason for explaining why FB provides an important service). Whatever FB's lofty mission statement is on the inside, the actual service Facebook is providing is estrangement, as mentioned in a comment below.

Here is a very small way you can show you care, which will be actually productive and hopefully makes you rethink that statement. There is someone in your life who is technologically inept. Help them with their technology related problems for an hour a week. Pull your hair out in frustration at your complete failures (which will definitely happen initially). Persist with it until they learn something. Continue for a while until you realize they have mastered it so well that they are now teaching you something even you didn't know.

In about 6 months, ask yourself if you would rather show that you care about others by actually helping someone out, or if the better way is to press the Like button like Pavlovian dogs. And then come and comment on how useful you think FB is at that point.

I am not saying it is absolutely useless. I am just saying that FB's engagement would dwindle down in proportion to its actual importance. The funny thing is, anyone with a modicum of common sense can see that FB has been designed to be like an entertaining movie, designed to appeal to our most base instincts (the well studied combination of narcissism and voyeurism). You will not watch such movies 24 x 7 x 365, would you?


The title ("Facebook Australia allowed advertisers to target teens’ emotional states") is fundamentally incorrect.

Update, 5/1 12:12 p.m.: "Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state."



We really have no way of knowing for which purpose or in which way any data that is collected about us is used by any company/person/entity.


And here is one reason why I'm busy trying to get people to abandon Whatsapp.

I don't want to support this company. I don't want them to have tons of metadata including a list of everyone I talk to.

I definitely don't want them to track my kids.

So I hold my nose and say "try Telegram".


Say 'try signal' instead. Good crypto is never be overrated.


Good crypto is never be overrated.

Agree.

But for the rest of us: does Signal have group conversations and multi-device support?

I think if we are going to replace Whatsapp we need to provide an alternative that matches the features people use and feels better.

Telegram does all that and more.

Amd BTW if you can get people to use Signal then that is great too!

(Oh the irony of me trying to get people off WhatsApp, - I was an enthusiastic user until they got bought.)


A bit like hitting the broad side of barn, though, isn't it?

I've been seeing a ton of backlash against Facebook lately. I know there's always backlash against Facebook, but I've been seeing a lot more of it. Especially devs calling out other devs for working there.


If you watch comment sections where shareholders hang out, such as Yahoo Business site for FB, you see every negative allegation against FB ever published, every single day. In comments sections, it is typically the shorts railing against any uptick in share price. And while the main Yahoo Business site does publish both pro and con articles year-round, there does always seem to be one major "new" negative allegation right at earnings time (Q1 report is in two days), like clockwork. Often, the "new" thing is not new at all. The major themes they like to repackage as news at earnings time are 1) the young are fleeing FB; 2) FB's revenue growth will slow as user growth slows; and 3) FB uses their data to sell ads. It's really funny to see these things touted as new revelations, when FB openly discusses all of these and more when discussing risk factors in their own financial reporting.


http://thoughtmaybe.com/facebook-cracking-the-code/

Watched it last night and I think it's very relevant to this discussion.

Now I don't think its Facebook, the company that has these scary social side effects, it is the concept of the 'social network' itself that's dangerous.

Facebook is just very good at promoting and monetizing it (and of course it's also a technological marvel).

Give everyone a voice ? Nice idea in theory, but one bad apple ... what about a million bad apples ?


I don't understand, this has been a feature since forever. You can tell the emotional state of people by the music they listen to.


I don't think it's fair to say that marketers ruin everything...

Marketers devalue everything.


Not sure why nobody has tried cache:-loading the news article. It gets around the paywall just fine.

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:dRqAloI...

http://archive.is/paAKu


It is time to criminalize targeted advertising.


"targeted advertising" isn't a binary property though, it's a spectrum. Hanging fliers for a football workshop near a football stadium is targeted advertising. Running your ad for a college during a show very popular with high schoolers is targeted advertising. Putting my online ad for belt sanders on a woodworking site is targeted advertising. I don't see anything wrong with any of those, do you?


Especially advertising targeted at children. The way I see it, an advert is a business proposal and children do not have the autonomy to engage in a deal.


It used to be illegal to direct TV ads at kids in Sweden but it's now been legalized to harmonize with the TV channels that were broadcasting from the UK. Even though it's legal the networks have refrained from doing it as far as I'm aware. Not sure about other mediums though.


IANAL but my understanding is that wether an advert is a business proposal or not is based around the idea of an 'invitation to treat'[0] in contract law. It's pretty interesting reading about some of the cases where this concept developed.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invitation_to_treat


>The term is used "to denote any action which is practiced mainly by psychological methods with the aim of evoking a planned psychological reaction in other people".

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_warfare


That's an absurdly broad definition. By that definition, clinical therapy is psychological warfare!


Clinical therapy is social engineering


What does that mean?


Not it's not. It's time to stop supporting ad-based businesses. Install an adblocker. Install an adblocker on your friends' and family's computers.


Installing an ad-blocker does not stop you from supporting FB indirectly. Your contacts, many of whom probably look to you for advice on all things technical, will still see your using FB as an example that it is a good platform. The only real way to change is to lead by example and leave FB permanently. Then foster communication and events outside of FB. Be the change.


the vast majority of fb's usage is in-app mobile. how're you gonna ad-block that?


By not using Facebook's app.


good answer. Got any tips for getting other people to stop using it too?


Be the change you want to see in the world.


Live stream killing an elderly man, or hanging of your 2 year old kid, or want to target the most volunrable in our society? Facebook.

They keep overstepping the mark and they keep getting away with it.


I think this is so disingenuous it's insulting to those who died.


To their famlies maybe, dead people don't take offense. Impling the reaction of someone is equally disingenuous. Not saying you are wrong, the conflation is a bit overreaching.


A person has a need; a company wants to satisfy it. Whether the offering is actually good for the person in long term is said persons' decision to make. Currently fashionable imperative that society has to force it's members to good choices and protect from bad ones is, in my, opinion, deeply immoral, and strips society's members from their ability to make meaningful choices.

Now, this particular story includes teenagers, and I agree - the people who we are not yet take as adults _should_ have some protection and guidance. But as person closes to the 18 (or 21) years, this protection and guidance needs to gradually go away. We cannot pretend that a 16 year old and 9 year old are on the same responsibility and mental level.


> A person has a need; a company wants to satisfy it. Whether the offering is actually good for the person in long term is said persons' decision to make.

A company doesn't "want" to satisfy anything; it needs to make money. We're talking mega-corporations with armies of psychologists and data scientists, pouring billions of dollars and collective man-centuries into learning to manipulate people to act in certain ways, irrespective of their own self-interest, on a massive scale... versus individual human beings with inherently limited time and access to information and, on average, predictable behavioral patterns. The most successful ad isn't the most helpful, informative, or even honest, it's the one which acts the most like a mind virus.


Still, the critical thing here is _personal_choice_. Any kind of interaction is, in some respect, manipulation; you just used a lot of scare tactics right now to inflate the role of manipulation in this particular one. May be fair, may be not; having worked in an industry that usually gets a rep for being manipulative (free2play gamedev), I don't believe in the black magic power of the game designers and marketers anymore, but I don't have enough information about topic at hand.

But regardless - we have to make a clear distinction between somewhere, because otherwise we would be on a slippery slope to forbid any kind of interaction where parties have conflicting interests at all. And in my opinion, the perfect way to make distinction is whether the person is making the decision out of a sane state of mind and voluntarily.




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