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Facebook ads in the UK General Election 2017 (whotargets.me)
73 points by coffeedoughnuts on May 3, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 25 comments

Speaking of FB ad targeting in elections, I was recently surprised to learn that an advertiser can give FB a specific list of names of people they want to target.

I learned that because I own a handful of shares of Arconic, which is a company in the midst of a hostile takeover attempt. I was rather curious how FB figured that out... but both sides know my identity, and apparently whatever I agreed to when I opened a brokerage account included giving my identity to companies I invest in, and them giving it to activist investors, and the company/investors giving it to social networks.

My understanding is that in the US at least, it's common for both parties to attempt to maintain complete databases of all voters, so it's feasible for them to select individual ad targets themselves and just give FB the names.

>an advertiser can give FB a specific list of names of people they want to target.

This guy pranked his roommate with targeted Facebook ads - http://ghostinfluence.com/the-ultimate-retaliation-pranking-...

That story is awesome. Absolutely made my day. Thanks for posting the link.

This is called an "audience". You can pretty much create an audience from anything.

You can build up a whole chain of audiences. For example, if you watch a video ad, you can then be targeted. If you, say, click a link as part of that audience, you can find yourself inside an even tighter targeted audience. At that point, you're considered hot. Before you know it, you could be buying a product. At which point, you're in another audience still, tempting you to buy again!

In fact, with this type of targeting, interest and demographic based targeting doesn't even come close. You can, however, target all the people, at each step in your funnel, who "look like" people who wanna buy (have the same interests, age, gender). These get fed back into the top of your targeting funnel and so it goes.

As for the UK GE, I'm not seeing this type of targeting so I think they may be stuck in the "old" interest-based model of FB advertising.

This looks like a hilarious accident of enabling scammers to target vulnerable people through the magic of gradient descent. Nobody would want to look like they're intentionally targeting multi-level marketing schemes to special education students, but if the students happen to "become part of an audience" and "people like your audience" happen to be special education students, then you get all the benefit of exploiting them with none of the terrible optics.

Ah yes - I remember the day I had an ad show up telling me that the very niche item I purchased in another state at a retail store was the subject of a class-action lawsuit...

edit: and it probably wasn't the class action you're thinking of :)

Well surely he company needs a list of its shareholders so it can fulfill its obligations to you like sending you notices for annual meetings, share splits etc.

One of the weird things (for Americans) about UK elections is the really tiny amount of money involved, because almost all advertising is banned or spending-restricted. Everyone gets a free mailshot and a 10-minute TV slot or two (party political broadcast), but you don't get tons of attack ads on TV, "PACs", or even paid billboards.

Facebook is very different. There was apparently a lot of very sophisticated targeting going on for Brexit.

(There are a number of conservative MPs under investigation by the police for violating spending limits, plus a developing story about money laundering from HSBC: https://www.thecanary.co/2017/04/28/breaking-dark-money-hsbc... )

Associated Guardian article on the tool: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/03/free-soft...

Off-topic, but has anyone else noticed that many images shown on the Guardian lately have been really bad quality JPEGs with many artifacts? The "who targets me?" picture is one example.

It's not immediately obvious what the utility of this plugin is. They say it can show me who's targeting me with ads on Facebook... well, can't I just go to Facebook to find this out?

I'm not saying there isn't any utility, but I don't think it's obvious enough from reading the front page of the site.

It's partly to help raise awareness of this kind of advertising, and start maybe looking at its impact on the elections themselves. Also, if you are able to capture data from multiple feeds then you can also start to spot trends and maybe electioneering sheenanigans.

From the Guardian article [0]:

"It aims to show who campaigns are targeting, how much the parties are spending and will shed light on whether targeted adverts are crossing the boundary into 'fake news'."

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/03/free-soft...

People install extensions that have access to things like "all data on Facebook.com" far too easily from complete strangers on the internet :/

They already gave the data to Facebook, so I think that ship has sailed.

But Facebook are a big organisation that a) has a reputation to keep, b) a lot of smart security engineers and c) are very unlikely to hand their software over to a bad guy for an envelope of money.

Why would you trust your Facebook account (or any other account) to a random stranger on the internet you've never met, heard of, or even seen? Whose real name you probably don't even know?

You had me at "Facebook has a reputation to keep". Indeed, yes!

It's worth nothing that everyone who works at Facebook, including the CEO, are random strangers. That I know (some of) their names doesn't help me sleep well at night.

Incidentally, I don't have a facebook account, and I sleep fine.

Edit: didn't Mark Zuckerberg once say "people who trust me are dumb fucks", or something to that affect? Screw that guy and the horse he rode in on.

Regarding your edit, it baffles me that people continue to bring that quote up. Zuck said that at 19 years old. Do you realize the amount of dumb shit that I thought and said at 19? People grow and learn and change. You don't think he learned a thing or two after growing his company from nothing to a $400B behemoth?

Now if his behavior was consistent and he continued to say things like that today, then maybe the evidence would hold some merit. Otherwise it's just pointless cherrypicking. To hold something like that against him over a decade later? That's just irrational hatred.

And just to be clear this is the full quote with context: https://pastebin.com/4a2aLp11

And with the extra context, the quote makes more sense. At the time it was dumb of those people to just submit personal information to a random dude at Harvard.

> It's worth nothing that everyone who works at Facebook, including the CEO, are random strangers

There is a big difference between a multi-billion dollar company that has a reputation, shareholders etc. and a completely random person (who could literally be anyone with any motives). You can't go to Facebook and give them an envelope of cash for keys to access other peoples Facebook accounts whereas some random guy is much more likely to be open to this.

Security online is already shit and people freely handing out access to their online accounts is not making things better. There's need to breach servers anymore, you just create a "fun" browser extension with god permissions that auto-updates and then after a few weeks just start harvesting usernames, passwords, card details, instant messages and emails... :/

The use of targetted ads during elections was the reason I quit facebook

I had read an interview the one of the UKIP social media guys talking about that US company that provided services to the leave campaign. he shut his own facebook down after hearing about how it worked

Looks like an interesting project. Is there any reason the extension isn't available for Firefox (missing WebExtension APIs maybe)?

How does this work? Do they collect user's profiles and try to reverse the ad target?

No, the extension only extracts ad information from your Facebook timeline as you are reading it. Apart from the minimal information requested when you install the extension (which I believe you may be able to skip) they don't capture anything personally identifiable.

Their privacy policy is here: https://whotargets.me/privacy-policy/

Now I may be being cynical, but as an advertiser, couldn't this project be just as easily an attempt to backwards construct targeting by competitors of companies and politicians?

The Extension does not accept my area code-- 97222. I get the gist from the website that it is targeting British/European users.

Yes, currently the ad is intended for use during the UK general election. I believe there's a longer term plan which may include widening the scope if it goes well, and there's enough interest, etc.

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