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Judge unseals trove of internal Facebook documents from 2012 legal action (revealnews.org)
212 points by dustinmoris 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

I was talking to my wife the other day about how League of Legends used to accept Subway gift cards as a form of payment. My theory was that it was to get at kids lunch money in case the parents wouldn't give them money for a game - that way they could target vulnerable kids with their systems.

I can't know if I was right or not, and its pretty cynical, but in this other case from the article we have Angry Birds with an average player age of 5 years old using deceptive in-game currencies and gambling/behaviourist inspired design practices to make thousands of dollars off of certain young high risk players.

Every year that goes by I'm shocked this sort of thing continues to be legal

Before that we had (and still have) Magic the Gathering. I remember spending a huge amount on money on "boosters": packs of random cards with a chance of containing a good or rare one.

Then you had (still have) Mac Donald and their monopoly game.

And you had (and still have) the TV games where you could send a text, and before that call, for a chance to win, with ads during kids show. And before that, you could send a letter.

In France we had a sweet called "mistral gagnant", which you bought because if the sweet was a winner, you'd get another one for free.

I'm pretty sure things existed way, way, before that, I'm just not aware of it.

> Before that we had Magic the Gathering.

Similar to Pokemon, you at least got something tangible. Even if MtG or Pokemon shutdown tomorrow, you can still play with your cards until you die, and then your kids can play with them.

Or you can sell them to other kids or collectors.

> Then you have Mac Donald and their monopoly game.

Also, here you got a tangible benefit (you got fed).

This is the key difference versus paying for Ninja Wars, or even for non-pay2win-stuff like "skins". The second the game servers get shut down is also the second your collection becomes worthless. And if you're done with the game you can't even sell on your stuff to someone else.

Watching a movie on a DVD or from a file on your hard drive is still a movie, tangible or not.

In the example of the Magic card, those cards had no value for a human being, biologically speaking. We gave them value. You could as well write the card text on a piece of paper and play it the same way.

The fact they are tangible pieces of paper doesn't erase the gambling-for-children aspect. Nor does it give them any more real value than a video game bonus. They have the value we estimate in our heads.

You give for example a low value to a LoL skin. But to a player that spends hours a day on it, and use it as a central platform for social interactions and fun, the skin has an impact, and for a long time.

I played dota for a years, I never bough a skin, but when I won one, I sure used it.

A difference with MtG is also the target market. I started playing with 8, went to my first tournament (also the first time I met players other than my best friend) at 10 and we got laughed at for having German cards. Pretty much everyone was 5-7 years older than us.

Not sure how it is nowadays, but on the other hand, from what I read, you just buy whatever deck you want directly instead of going through boosters.

Remember when you could buy people things on Facebook for around $1 that were essentially icons? I can't remember exactly how it worked or what they called them, but I remember thinking at the time that you're essentially paying for a PNG to be displayed by someone's name and finding it weird. For a lark I wrote to their support team and suggested that I'd design them an icon for a cut of its revenue, and got a generic "thanks for the idea, we'll think about it" email response.

They were called gifts. I thought it was a kind of clever way of displaying status and demonstrating that you were thinking of someone, just like real gifts or cards. I definitely would prefer a social network with modest ambitions that covered its costs this way rather than targeted advertising and pay to win social gaming.

Gambling (especially aimed at minors) def gives me an "icky" feeling too, but I'm not sure the "tangible" aspect is very key.

To me, it seems like McDonald's food that's physical but lasts a short time is about as tangible as a skin that's not physical but you can use for years.

> To me, it seems like McDonald's food that's physical but lasts a short time is about as tangible as a skin that's not physical but you can use for years.

Well... at least with McD there is a natural limit on how much one can spend on gambling Monopoly (=how much you can eat before having to barf). With most digital goods, there is no such limit, and to make it psychologically worse, there is nothing actually "representing" what you got for your money - it's all numbers and code that depends on a central server.

Isn't McD worse then? It's encouraging people to eat/drink more sugar and carbs then one should just for a chance to win. Making them more unhealthly. There is also no limit, people can (and do) buy it and chuck it away. Or eat part of it. And end of the day you have nothing "representing" what you got for your money except some more weight on the scale. The skin lasts a lot longer and is better then junk food. At least the skin is neutral, McD has a negative benefit even if it is more tangible.

Collectible card games are literally the same as the stuff you get in CS:GO, that is, the CS:GO random items can be resold for a lot more money than you invest in it - if you get lucky.

But I just don't know why people are all up in arms about these things now when random card packs and such were a thing a while ago.

Maybe this difference doesn't matter but you can technically play Magic the Gathering by copying the cards or drawing your own. Get out a piece of paper, start drawing the stats on the cards. Play the game.

In other words, you're not paying for the game, your paying to collect cards. I never personally understood it but watched friends, family, and co-workers spent $2k-$5k on cards back in the mid 90s.

That seems different to me in some subtle way from in-game purchases in video games.

Indeed, it's pretty common to 'proxy' more expensive cards when playing casually. Of course, if you want to play in a sanctioned tournament, you need to pony up.

Draw your own cards and try bring it to a game, see how that goes down.

I'd love to see a really talented and fast working artist modify their deck mid-tournament to always be best prepared for their coming opponent and the deck they are known to use. I'm sure that wouldn't go over too well.

Monopoly seems a lot less predatory. You're not paying for a chance to get the company's core product - some food. You're paying for food with a chance to get something extra.

Adults seem pretty susceptible to all of the above as well.

What's bad for children is always bad for adults, but because we already have defense and coping mechanisms, we got the illusion of control.

> ...because we already have defense and coping mechanisms, we got the illusion of control.

Agreed, and just wanted to add that it's surprising just how many adults don't seem have these mechanisms. Perhaps a form of learned helplessness by being subjected to this kind of thing from childhood?

Thats why we have gambling regulations.

Magic the Gathering was less popular and less known. Less kids ended up putting that much money into it.

It was same money suck and I don't see how its precedence make anything better.

Magic the Gathering also has the benefit of training the children in manipulating complex systems with strict rules and adversaries. The amount of abstract thinking, long-, mid- and short-term planning, statistics, environment surveying, ... I will literally do my best to get my children into this or a similar game.

But that doesn't detract from the previous commenter's point: gambling aimed at children has always been there. Internet is merely an amplifier here.

Yes it was, but issue affected small enough community and was easier to control (due to social pressure being lower on average kid). I am glad we are finally calling it what it is.

All those positive things can be learned in ways that do not require kids to play super expensive pay to win game.

What would be such a way? I'm genuinely interested.

My son(12) just got a couple mtg decks for Christmas so I'm getting into it with him. I had only played it once when I was around his age. You are correct, there is so much to it I was amazed how deep it gets. Fantastic game.

So what?

I have wondered whether MtG wasn't just a clever way to prep an audience to buy into the Bitcoin, um, idea. There are lots of connections between the two, obviously, and I'm pretty sure years ago I heard someone propose that Richard Garfield is or personally knows Satoshi.

respectfully, that's a little bit ridiculous. MtG is neither the first nor only TCG to sell randomized booster packs, and it has been around for a quarter-century. i don't see any connections between the two besides those that are generically inherent to microeconomies.

League of Legends recently came out with a new shenanigan, a new skin that is not even particularly good but it exploits the "boxes" system and it's very rare. People calculated that it's could cost at least $150 to get it. It's clearly a tactic to squeeze people out of money more than give something worth.

I too am shocked that this sort of stuff is not looked at closer since I work in the adult video gaming industry and I can see how strict the laws in some countries are around how we CAN NOT ABSOLUTELY have any imagery that could appeal to children. I think it's fair and this sort of games should get regulated too.

These companies spend a lot of money trying to optimise their profits. If the laws tightened up then they would simply try to exploit as much as possible within their legal limits. Mobile applications can make huge profits from exploiting human psychology and I don't see lawmakers being able to effectively curb this anytime soon.

One thing HN has taught me many times is I’m too trustful of people and things. I was defending Theranos way past their sell-by date, and I’ve been refusing to take “Facebook / Zuck is evil” seriously for a long time too. This isn’t a good look for them at all tho

My high school had the foresight to have a media literacy class 20 years ago. I never looked at an advertisement the same after that.

This just isn't being talked about enough. Educating people is one way to help the individual combat deceptive media practices, dark patterns in games and UIs, and much more. Luckily, my parents taught me to loathe commercials, and later political ideals led me to read a lot on the topic of the interaction between media and advertising and ideas, and how propaganda actually works (hint: effective propaganda isn't about lies, it's about showing some truths and not talking about others).

And this was all before the Internet boom and the terrible ad-tech hell we find ourselves in.

Anyway, kudos to your high school.

Do you recall what the required reading was?

This is truly a fantastic place to start (there is a book of the same name):


Outstanding. A 1992 documentary that describes fb and all modern media down to a T.

Just be mindful that HN (or any outlet these days) will never teach you the positive value of FB for the common person. FB is indeed evil in this case, but be careful not to blindly make over-generalizations with unnecessary correlations. FB, like most, can be good and evil. You don't have to accept the deluge of low quality, substanceless FB op eds the same way you do articles with more objective content. We have the ability to have more nuanced opinions about companies than all good or all evil.

My point is more that I've found HN's negativity to be more realistic than my natural optimism, over and over again.

Sure, just saying don't let the local sentiment change you. I personally have found the opposite once outside the echo chamber, granted like HN, I am naturally pessimistic/skeptical. I've found common-person use of tech and common tech business to be nowhere near as negative.

I've also found the common-person use and valuation of tech to be nowhere near as informed as HN's.

A bliss users enjoy, as we might in areas we're less knowledgeable in. They see a forest, we see trees; doesn't discount their happiness.

How is that relevant? Yes, uninformed people aren't worried by the problems they don't know about. That doesn't make the problems any less problematic.

More like uninformed people don't consider them problems, or at least not problems outweighing the benefits. There are several things that make "problems" more or less problematic, one of which being hyper-focus on negatives, which is why it's relevant.

> More like uninformed people don't consider them problems, or at least not problems outweighing the benefits.

Which still doesn't change anything about them being (serious) problems. It just means that people who don't have a clue don't have a clue.

> There are several things that make "problems" more or less problematic, one of which being hyper-focus on negatives, which is why it's relevant.

No, whether anyone is paying attention to a problem has zero influence on how big a problem it is.

Facebook has about a decade of privacy fuck-ups, manipulation and dark patterns behind it.

Sure, they're not 100% evil, heck Hitler was a pretty swell guy with his close friends too, but at this point they should be guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.

The deluge of anti-fb comments is the public finally having enough of their crap, so you should get used to it.

> The deluge of anti-fb comments is the public finally having enough of their crap

This is the trap I'm talking about. Instead of "public" what you mean are "commenters" and "writers". Assuming that is an accurate representation of the public is folly. As has become clear so many times recently, and is especially visible in election results, the loud public and the general public are often not of the same mind.

The silent public is irrelevant, because they won't vote on whether facebook gets crushing fines, broken up, etc.

They'll just use whatever is easiest and tickles their fancy.

For curiosity's sake... we know now that Theranos was never anything more than hot air and marketing. What caused you to defend them at the time?

Probably the same thing that caused it to be worth $9 billion. Holmes was incredibly convincing and had real contracts with huge companies.

Whether Facebook is evil or not is not really the question. I frame it like this: We have a couple of big companies that make money from one thing: knowing as much as they can about you. Currently they sell ads. We have given these companies an important part of society. So much, in fact, that the choice is not "should I use X" but "should I chose not to use X and face not-so-small consequences for doing so?".

Quote: The judge agreed with Facebook’s request to keep some of the records sealed, saying certain records contained information that would cause the social media giant harm, outweighing the public benefit.

How does that make sense? If the action Facebook committed was somehow morally reprehensible, but legal?

Maybe there was an internal e-mail discussion where they discussed or joked about doing something reprehensible, which they didn't end up doing.

Any project where you detect a vulnerable person so you can protect them, or detect an evildoer so you can block them, you can joke about the fact there's money to be made by doing the reverse. And those jokes would look pretty bad taken out of context, even though you were never seriously considering them.

My bet would be some kind of internal political/interpersonal bullshit that is good for generating hot takes on twitter and not much else.

The interesting part about that to me is that they don't regard the fleecing-children part to be "giant harm." I.e., the court has records that are even more damaging to Facebook.

Or they think in that case, the public benefit outweighs the damage to Facebook.

This is much more likely IMO. The public benefit of different pieces of information can vary greatly, with most probably approaching zero. Even if the child-fleecing stuff was the most harmful of anything to FB, it's still reasonable that other things are not beneficial enough to release even if they likely are not as damaging.

That's really troubling. But by now several people have access to this information anyway, so it's just a question of time before we learn what it was.

Many things that are morally reprehensible are also legal, e.g. adultery, drinking. The goal of having law is not to make people more moral, it's much humbler: to maintain relative peace and safety.

Don't mix law and morality. Attempts to do so gave us sharia law, let that be a cautionary tale.

There were many cases of religious law being the law of the land e.g. the Ten Commandments.

Maintaining peace and safety are moral impetuses.

depends on your thorough definition of "peace", "safety", and "moral"

Jeez. If half the quotes from there are accurate, there should be actual jail sentences for those involved. This is exploiting kids for cash. Utterly reprehensible.

It's bad enough to exploit adults, but kids who literally do not understand the concept of money?! Or doing the internet equivalent of the "snacks display" right besides the supermarket cash register line - make the kids throw tantrums at their parents so that they put up cash. Vile!

The marginal cost for FB of providing games to a kid like in the example is zero. I'm surprised their support staff didn't just fold when there was a complaint. If they did this might not have ended up in the press.

I can understand if a firm sends out some product that depreciates like a lollipop, they might suffer an actual loss if the purchase was done by a kid.

But in this case it's hard to see anything reasonable about how FB has behaved. Clearly the kids don't want to be spending hundreds of their parents' dollars.

Why is it still standard to use a single shared card number for non-revocable authorization and no interactive confirmations for online payments?

This is exclusive to Portugal right now, but we have a system called MBNet/MBWay that is supported by all the major banks in which you can create one-time use cards or cards with recurring monthly allowances for use in the same vendor.

It's really well polished and has a lot of other very useful QoL features, such has direct transfers based on cellphone numbers, which allow you to instantly pay dinner debts to your friends. I am surprised to hear it doesn't exist outside pt.

Also Privacy.com

There is now a whole lineup of pro corporate decisions by judges that need more scrutiny and dissent, and some way to return to defending the public interest.

In this case sealing was clearly not in the public interest, at the very least it would have alerted parents, prevented more abuse and increased public awareness of a growing toxic culture.

This would have have produced better outcomes for all parties, including Facebook and their employees by forcing a rethink of their business practices and processes.

How do they know the average age of Angry Bird gamers at the time were 5? Surely they know if they are 13+ (and specific age if so ).

> "The judge agreed with Facebook’s request to keep some of the records sealed, saying certain records contained information that would cause the social media giant harm, outweighing the public benefit."

What could possibly be more harmful than what has already been released? It's a bit mind-boggling.

A redditor in the /r/technology thread on this recalled that Facebook has performed emotion manipulation experiments in the past. It may be that Facebook was using those capabilities to make kids and teens more vulnerable to ads.


>Edelman declined to say more, citing a confidentiality clause in the settlement.

Confidentiality agreements always keep these kinds of things from coming to light, merely because the cost of breaking them is too damned high.

> Yet the company continued to deny refunds to children, profiting from their confusion.

> Facebook often failed to send receipts for these purchases, and links on the company’s website to dispute charges frequently failed to work, according to court records.

So if you can't get a refund from Facebook, contact your financial institution and dispute the charges through them. There's no guarantee of success, but you probably have a better shot going that route.

How is not sending out receipts legal?

What law obligates a vendor to send a receipt?

I think all the card associations require it as do a number of us states. I can't find a federal law but there might be one as well.


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