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Mark Zuckerberg Speaks Down to Users and Misses the Point (eff.org)
344 points by panarky 83 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 152 comments



> He starts with one of his greatest hits: “People consistently tell us that if they’re going to see ads, they want them to be relevant.” This perpetuates the ad industry’s favorite false dichotomy: either consumers can have “relevant” ads—targeted using huge collections of sensitive behavioral data—or they can be bombarded by spam for knock-off Viagra and weight-loss supplements. The truth is that ads can be made “relevant” and profitable based on the context in which they’re shown, like putting ads for outdoor gear in a nature magazine.

I disagree, it's not a false dichotomy, it's a real one.

Most Internet content isn't nearly as "contextual" as a nature magazine. Probably 99% of the content I read won't help target ads much at all, because it's mostly NYT news articles and the like.

I'm probably in a tiny minority here on HN, but I accept that ads are currently necessary to fund companies (even though I wish it weren't true), and I genuinely prefer ads targeted towards my interests (I've gone so far as to customize my interests on Google to help it serve me more relevant ads -- most of them were accurate but there were a handful that weren't).

Targeting obviously isn't always perfect -- they still don't have the kink ironed out where I keep seeing ads for something on Amazon even after I bought the thing or a similar thing -- but it really does benefit users, if they've got to put up with ads in the first place.


A real dichotomy is a binary choice. Any false dichotomy is that binary choice forced to the absence of other possibilities. This is a false dichotomy.

First of all it excludes the idea that there are revenue options other than advertisements. Secondly, it excludes the idea that advertisements can be relevant to a user's session that are contextually valid and otherwise ignore user history, which often tend to produce the most relevant ads. Third, the relevance of ads shown to users is highly debatable as most of the supposedly relevant ads shown to me are only 1 step away from the spam I get in email. Fourth, relevance can be determined by factors other than user data, such as search term auction. Fifth, privacy violating ads have shown to be extremely effective, such that if a person buys something ads for that thing are shown to the person's friends with compelling social pressure.


Well said.

Not to mention the biggest issue here is not about ads. It is the potential for abuse of power and for Facebook or partners of FB to target and harm specific individuals.


The main concerns are not the ads themselves, but the uncontrolled amounts of information that are being collected to tailor those ads (and that can potentially be then used for far more evil purposes), the emerging tendency to try to get users addicted to content so they can see more ads (with unintended consequences like radicalization of news because extreme content receives more visits ), and the question of how effective a manipulation technique has to be before it crosses the line between marketing and control of masses.


> The main concerns are not the ads themselves

The ads themselves are a concern too. Especially when they are annoying, malware delivery vehicles, disguised as content and so inefficient that 90% of the memory and cpu cycles of a browser are consumed by rendering the ads instead of content.

The user tracking for targeting ads is a big issue, but not the only one.


Agreed. It is the reason that I have adblockers on all my devices. Until this is fixed, viewing ads is unacceptably dangerous.


Actually, this is generally an advantage of FB.

They have deep control over the ad experience, and they don't have these massive scripts from a million sources that jam up your CPU.

Their ads are tight on this front.


> Actually, this is generally an advantage of FB... Their ads are tight on this front.

The qualifier ‘generally’ is important here, which I understand to mean “usually, but not always”.

Facebook Allowed Political Ads That Were Actually Scams and Malware

“Some people who clicked on a Facebook ad found their computers frozen.”

“Their screens displayed a warning and a computer-generated voice informed them that their machine had been “infected with viruses, spywares and pornwares.””

“Many of the scams had also been flagged by users, fact-checking groups and cybersecurity services — even the Federal Trade Commission — long before they appeared on the social network.”

When people cross the street, they are generally not hit by buses. Yet, it would be incorrect to claim there’s no danger from buses when crossing the road. And to frontrun the comments saying Facebook’s crosswalks may have fewer bus incidents (and possibly overextend the metaphor): no one gets hit by a bus when taking the footpath over the road instead.

[0] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/05/facebook-political-ads-were-...


> The main concerns are not the ads themselves

^ This.

> but the uncontrolled amounts of information that are being collected to tailor those ads

^ Especially this. (side note: funny thing how so much of this information is gathered, yet targeting is still so bad)

> the emerging tendency to try to get users addicted to content so they can see more ads

Also very important. These platforms don't build features with "how to make things better for users" in mind, they do so with "how do we increase user engagement for ad spend" (see Snapchat as a prime example)


The targeting only looks bad because you don't know how valuable a lead is in the relevant business. If you're a tenth as likely to click on something with ten times the customer acquisition cost, then from the platform's perspective these are equally profitable to show.

Case in point: do some searches on mattresses and see what ads you see over the next weeks. Huge value per customer, so if you can plausibly be lumped into mattress firms' targeting options they'll win the auction.


> do some searches on mattresses and see what ads you see over the next weeks.

This sounds like an interesting experiment. I mean, the result seems obvious for a search on mattresses, but I think we can expand on this to search for more controversial or political topics. I'm going to start planning this experiment and I'd be very interested if anyone knows of an existing study along the same lines.


> I accept that ads are currently necessary to fund companies

I don't. Facebook (and Google and Twitter) have inflicted the ad-supported business model on themselves. If they were really concerned about their users, they would figure out how to allow their users to pay directly for their services, without seeing any ads or having any personal information collected. Call it the "premium option" or something, like so many app developers do. These companies are perfectly capable of doing that; they're just too lazy to try.


Google has YouTube Red (maybe it's called "Premium" now?) which is offered as an ad-free version, with some other benefits such as offline viewing, and I do pay for it. So that supports your thesis.


Same here. It's worth it. It means everything my family and I watch is ad free. YouTube, Netflix, HBO... Well, aside from HBO's preroll ads for themselves. Annoying.


> Google has YouTube Red...that supports your thesis.

I don't want to pay for YouTube. I want to pay for basic Google Search without ads cluttering up every search page.


Is Google Contributor what you are looking for? https://www.zdnet.com/article/sick-of-ads-now-you-can-pay-go...


It doesn't seem to include Google in their list of sites? The whole concept sounds interesting but it needs a way better selection of sites, I don't think I've visited any of the few on that list [0].

Also, I'd need tracking disabled as well as the ads.

[0] https://support.google.com/contributor/answer/7324995


I love this idea, but the only participating websites they list are Popular Mechanics and National Post, making this effectively vaporware for the time being. Launching this service without a significant set of participating sites is ridiculous, and seems to be asking for the service to fail.


No. As I said, I want basic Google search without ads cluttering up the search page.

It would be nice if other websites would stop depending on Google ad revenue as well, but that's a separate issue.


I have Adblock Origin and don't see any ads on YouTube. I wanted to pay for Youtube Premium but 12/month is a bit excessive for offline viewing (which is the only part of YT I use) (and even if I wanted to see their premium content, it's way more expensive than Netflix).


"I accept that ads are currently necessary to fund companies I don't."

Tell that to your local newspaper.

Ads are 100% a real part of the economy and are necessary to sustain certain kinds of business models.


> Tell that to your local newspaper.

If my local newspaper gave me any information worth the price, I would gladly pay for it.

> Ads are 100% a real part of the economy and are necessary to sustain certain kinds of business models.

I know a lot of companies believe this, since ads are ubiquitous. I just don't agree with them. IMO, if you are depending on ad revenue to fund your business, you either aren't providing anything worth paying for, or, as I said about Google and Facebook and some others, you're too lazy to try and actually make your users your customers, as they should be.


"if you are depending on ad revenue to fund your business, you either aren't providing anything worth paying for, "

This is quite plainly false.

It's a little flippant to suggest that all these industries that currently depend on ads are just 'stupid' and they're 'doing it wrong'.

There are hard dynamics at play here, and when one is confronted with them directly (usually by being in such a business), then one develops an intimate understanding of them.

There have been countless experiments with various things like micropayments etc. but the dynamic still tilts towards an actual user preference for 'free with ads and less privacy' as opposed to 'paid'.


> an actual user preference for 'free with ads and less privacy'

Users don't have a preference for less privacy; that's not the choice they're presented with. They're presented with no choice at all: just "free". The "less privacy" part is never explained to them up front or given to them as an explicit choice; it comes out later when the companies get caught.


> an actual user preference for 'free with ads and less privacy' as opposed to 'paid'.

In other words, the businesses aren't providing anything worth paying for, since users won't pay for it.


Facebook had $15 Billion in US ad revenue (2018) and 214 Million US users. So ~$70/yr/person. I would gladly pay that for an ad free experience given the option.


Most likely Facebook is making more than $70/year/person from users who are willing to pay $70/month for ads-free experience.

The reason for that is that usually only people with higher than average income are willing to pay for their ads-free accounts.

People with higher than average income - are more appealing target for advertisers. So, most likely, Facebook is making more ad revenue than average from wealthier users.

Advertising allows to "implicitly charge" wealthier users more than poorer users.


> Most likely Facebook is making more than $70/year/person from users who are willing to pay $70/month for ads-free experience.

I think you mean "willing to pay $70/year". Fine, set the price at whatever the break-even point is (how much FB thinks they can make from ads for the type of person they expect to be willing to pay for the free version). At least then we'd be able to make a choice. Right now, we have none.


> set the price at whatever the break-even point is

1) That paid option would remove the wealthiest part of the potential ad audience. The higher the break-even point is - the wealthier slice of audience it will remove.

2) Such premium option may, actually, work. For example, Youtube has $11.99 per month Premium subscription option. Did you sign up for that?

3) I am not sure if Facebook will implement that premium option, because managing ads-free premium option would add complexity to their codebase.


> Youtube has $11.99 per month Premium subscription option. Did you sign up for that?

Why should I? I have no need for ad-free YouTube since I hardly ever watch it anyway.

What I would like, as I said upthread, is to be able to pay for basic Google search so I can have my search results not cluttered with ads.


Thank you -- yes, I meant $70/year (too late to edit it now).


thats not how it works though. they would try to do both if they could. look at the cable company via tv.

it is only a issue cause how the net began and why some companies have eased into these models.


I don't use Facebook, but the numbers are fairly similar for Google, and I would gladly pay that amount for ad-free, snooping-free Google search.


> Facebook (and Google and Twitter) have inflicted the ad-supported business model on themselves.

No they did not, market did. Google is maybe a bit aside because it was first of its kind, but both twitter and facebook needed to have a large user base before even being remotely useful. In the presence of already entrenched free alternatives, getting to a critical mass of users with a paid service is impossible.

If there is a way to get your service out for free somebody will do it and then the race to the bottom begins. There are comparably very few people that are willing to pay for any virtual service compared to those that are okay with ads. So much so that if you try to make a paid service you will either have to be extremely differentiated (Netflix) or pander to some niche and charge quite big prices.

Stuff like Youtube Red can only exist because they already have all the creators and all the viewers, but Youtube would not exist or survive, were it the only option.


There's an incentive mismatch that's fundamental to advertising. Advertisers bid on platforms for specific cohorts identified by some piece of data, and their bids are determined by the value of a lead in their business. So from the perspective of an ad platform, advertising to you isn't just about what interests you and what you're likely to buy, but the product of producer surplus times likelihood to buy. Interested in something that makes a company more money? You'll see proportionally more ads for it at the same interest level.


This is also a reason why I don't trust ads and sales/customer support recommendations when shopping. As you noted, companies try to push what makes them the most money, not what is best fit for my use case.


This is particularly a good idea with investing. Anyone whose job it is to pitch things to you basically can't be trusted. The size of this sort of financial service industry makes it obvious how big of a deal the fees are in this area.


Why do you prefer ads targeted to your interest? What % of your purchases are improved and not merely influenced by your ad viewing? I prefer untargeted ads since I'm not about to improve my knowledge or shopping performance just by viewing ads, and I'd rather not have my privacy compromised.


> I prefer untargeted ads since I'm not about to improve my knowledge or shopping performance just by viewing ads.

maybe this is true for you personally, but I don't think it holds in general. most of the time ads are completely useless (and I personally run ad blockers on every device I control) but every once in a while I see an ad for something useful I just wasn't aware of.

for example, I recently saw an ad for an electric hot plate that can keep a mug of coffee warm indefinitely. at first I thought it looked like a piece of trash, but then I thought what the hell, it's $10 and my coffee often gets cold before I finish drinking it. it turns out that piece of trash keeps coffee at pretty much the ideal temperature for drinking. I have gotten well over $10 worth of enjoyment from the thing and I would never have thought to purchase it if I hadn't seen the ad.


I can relate to this phenomenon (the “hey this $10 gadget I didn’t know existed but for an ad I saw has actually ended up being super useful to me!” thing), but the problem is that stories that end with me making a purchase with which I was satisfied, from which I got utility commensurate with the cost, are a vanishing minority of stories that begin with me seeing an ad.

In fact, the vast majority of the ads I see I couldn’t tell a story about at all, because I see hundreds or even thousands of ads each day and they’re so fleeting.

But the effects of seeing so many ads isn’t fleeting. Whether the deliberate manipulation of my attention is successful at influencing my behavior to increase the advertiser’s revenue is irrelevant, because my attention being manipulated either way, and relentlessly so, by numerous actors who are competing with each other for space in mind, using tools and techniques so sophisticated as to be heretofore unimaginable... and this results in much less space in mind being left for... me!

This is the problem with which I take issue.


> and this results in much less space in mind being left for... me!

beautifully said


What kinds of non targeted ads would be "relevant" to someone viewing Facebook? Like outdoor gear in a nature magazine, except Facebook isn't a nature magazine, so instead the ads should be for...?


The same for broadcast television. Products for old people, brand awareness campaigns, banks.


+100

I love ads that give me relevant new information.

Linus tech tips is a great example of this. Some of his reviews are paid sponsorships, however the info is still relevant.

Same goes for Casey neistats review of the diji drones.


Neither of those are targeted advertising... you are arguing for the opposite point of the parent comment. From the article, the EFF is saying that ads relevant to the content being shown are effective (like you’ve described here) without needing to collect a wealth of information about individual users.


The thing is that Linus has been pretty visionary about when it comes to the state of the internet and creators and when YouTube first started shafting creators he began to look for an alternative way to monetise his content. That's why he weathered the whole BS-carousel around advertising on YouTube pretty well.

He's built a brand based on sponsorships inside the tech industry, a brand where they take care to only lend their name to brands and products that are worth it. I would wager they put a lot of work into selecting what paid product features to do or not. There still is a bit of a difference between sponsored spots in their videos and general upset about the internet advertising industry, however.

I will always gave him a lot of credit for that. It's not possible for all creators to do the same, but the ones that can should follow his example for everyone's benefit.


Linus has been well poised to survive the demonetization apocalypse much better than other shows by building brand sponsorships that are somewhat relevant to his prime content.

That being said, I can't stand most of his content. He tried to build a server, bought the wrong case, and thought he could take a dremel and an angle grinder to the motherboard to fix it. This didn't work, so he RMA'ed it and took another angle grinder to the new one.

His Ubiquiti and Unraid adventures are similarly ill informed, causing him to attempt things that won't work or work poorly for a short time, then fail spectacularly.

Attempted Server Build: https://redd.it/3ktkmr


Yeah, a lot of it is hard to watch. Remember the whole room watercooling project?

That being said, I gotta say kudos to the business end of his operation.


To quote the top reddit post:

"""

This is why I watch Linus for entertainment and not for learning. I enjoy watching these videos because he does things that I cannot afford to do myself and in my opinion the projects are entertaining to watch. The Techquickie videos are great to watch for learning, because they actually spend a lot of time on having correct information.

"""


I wonder if this is similar to how CinemaSins makes up a lot of "sins" to draw in rage clicks. People make entire videos pointing out how catastrophically wrong it is! That's a lot of free press.


Relevant ads through tracking are different to relevant ads because your favourite author thinks "hey, my readers will be interested in this."

I don't mind the latter, too. I usually have a lot of interest in the sponsorships chosen by my favourite writers to include on their sites.

Automated ad networks and tracking though, I just block those.


How are they different? Both are targeted.

Sure the tracking ads aren't as good, but imagine they were just as highly targeted and relavent.


Well, one doesn't violate your privacy. Also it's more relevant.

I could imagine tracking ads to be more relevant, but they're not. So I don't really see the point of that hypothetical.


> Targeting obviously isn't always perfect -- ... I keep seeing ads ... even after I bought the thing or a similar thing

I'm sympathetic to your argument up until here, where you describe not just an edge case but nearly the entirety of my experience engaging with targeted ads.

As an early evangelist of recommendation engines, I'm still hoping for ads to be useful.

It feels more like waiting for godot every year.

Sidenote- really appreciated the carefully argued contrary position, still upvoted.


> Most Internet content isn't nearly as "contextual" as a nature magazine. Probably 99% of the content I read won't help target ads much at all, because it's mostly NYT news articles and the like.

Really? What section were you reading? What was the article about? This seems way more "contextual" than an entire issue of National Geographic. If you're reading an article about college basketball from the sports section, you might be interested in shoes or a fantasy sports league. An article about the Hamptons in Real Estate? Polo ponies and expensive watches. One about Somalia? Either a Toyota Hilux, or you're probably not worth advertising to.

And I honestly wouldn't mind the Viagra and diet pill ads. If I'm going to see ads, I don't care if they're relevant or not; I just want them to be unobtrusive. Google crushed AltaVista not just because it delivered better results, but because its keyword-based ads were plain text on one side of the page, not giant animated GIFs.


> Most Internet content isn't nearly as "contextual" as a nature magazine. Probably 99% of the content I read won't help target ads much at all, because it's mostly NYT news articles and the like.

The NYT cut behavioral advertising in Europe after the GDPR and still grew revenue:

https://digiday.com/media/new-york-times-gdpr-cut-off-ad-exc...

Edit: I just read the EFF post and realized this article was linked. Did the parent poster mean that 99% of what he or she read was not NYT articles and the like?


I’m sure I’m not the only customer but I rather have non targeted and non contextual ads. In fact the only ads I would freely chose are ads for things I absolutely do not want to buy.

Any ad for a product I would actually want just increases the likelyhood of me buying that product which in general is not what I want. I already spent too much money on useless things.


Same. If it was information I wanted to see, they wouldn't have to pay to show it to me--I would go and find it myself.


If there wasn't ad supported content, people would have to buy high quality goods and services for money. That seems like a good thing in an economy.

Edit: the problem is that the 'free' ad driven business model makes it extremely difficult for non-free legitimate business models to succeed.


Youtube has started giving thumbs up and thumbs down to ads, which I think is a really good idea. I would be incredibly happy to offer information about what ads I want to see. I would even spend time out of my day to do it. This is an area which I think is sadly neglected -- they say they are collecting data to target ads, but actually they are using the same shotgun tactics that marketers always do.

It's bizarre, though. I wonder if Youtube even looks at the results of those thumbs up/thumbs down. I never, ever, ever, want to see another ad for Grammerly. Never. But I'm inundated with them anyway :-( (And in case Google is watching: I don't pay for SaaS. Never have. Never will. Stop sending that stuff to me... Heh heh... One can only hope...).


From the advertisers perspective; they may not want to spend ad dollars on people who are already highly likely to use their product or service. Ideally ad spends have you picking up customers on the margins that you otherwise would not have and this is very likely to play into targeting decisions.


The thing is, I'm actually interested in soliciting suppliers for various things. It would help me out quite a bit if they came to me rather than me to them. I make cheese. I need cheese making supplies. I travel from Japan to Europe once a year I need flight tickets. I'd love to upgrade to slightly bigger seats if I can afford it. Show me some comparison prices against your competition in that area. My bank is driving me crazy but it's the only one I can find that handles forex without charging me an arm and a leg. If you're good on that front, try to upsell me on something else. I'm interested in wet shaving and I need a supplier for products. I need a credit card, but I can't get one normally because I'm not a permanent resident in Japan. I know there are solutions, but I'm not aware of where to look. Various dry food staples are hard to get in the grocery store in the rural area where I live. I could give you a list if it would help. I am likely to travel somewhere in Japan 2-3 times this year for the purpose of visiting an onsen and staying over night in a Japanese style inn. I go to Saitama about 6 times a year to watch baseball and I often want to stay overnight. I'm not sure if it makes sense to stay in a hotel or AirBnB or something else. I need to buy tickets to Disney Sea this summer and I'd like to do it ahead of time if possible.

Seriously, I could (and would) go on for a long time. I have tons of things I'm likely to buy for which I'd love some help. There is a lot of personal information in the above, but all of it is stuff I'm happy for the world to know. There is a lot of other stuff I don't actually want to advertise and I'd rather the two categories didn't get mixed up.


The easiest is to sell more to people who are already your customers. That's the main target. Occasionally you also want to try to conquer new people, perhaps from your competitors. Those are the two targets, out of which the first one is more important.


Maybe they could have a button or link to disable that specific category or advertiser from ever showing up again. Make it easy to use on the spot - that would put a bit of flexibility in users hands. Same for automatic feeds and content suggestions.


> I disagree, it's not a false dichotomy, it's a real one.

This is very demonstrably false: Search engines can serve ads that are highly targeted to the user's query without knowing anything else about them.

You can see the gangbusters revenue that Google generates just from simple keyword searches: "insurance", "loans", "mortgage", "attorney", etc.[1] Not that they don't also try to learn more about you, but it's correct to say "tracking vs. Viagra" is a false dichotomy.

[1] https://www.wordstream.com/articles/most-expensive-keywords


That's very surprising to me, why would you care what ads you get if it means mortgaging your privacy? If we grant that ads are a given, just give me whatever bullshit you want, I won't click on any of them and I'm ignoring them either way.


Because bullshit untargeted ads aren't worth much. There's no point in accepting worthless ads that don't adequately fund the sites that serve them.


But if you are ignoring them anyway, won't the add value remain at 0?


Sure, if you think all advertising never works on anyone.


On the contrary with web content you can get enough context about the information being served. Combine that with IP geolocation and you have more than enough information.

But this is not about users or ads, its about self serving people thinking its ok to stalk people and hoover up data without a care about privacy because of an absence of regulatory constraints and inadequate privacy protection.

The end result is the continuous building and expansion of highly invasive profiles to offer more and more extreme segmentation to advertisers and a toxic business model.


Internet advertising is no more targeted, relevant to the user or of higher quality than it was in 2000. SV engineers have absolutely utterly failed to push the needle forward.


I think the issue is more that there are large swaths of media that can't be effectively stuffed with relevant ads on their content alone.


There are targeted ads, and then there are invasive ads. The tremendous intrusion of privacy falls more in to the invasive bucket.

If you like ads, maybe there should be a portal you go to see ads just for you- if you'd like to surrender all your data to have someone else tell you what you should buy. Having ads be part of browsing experience is just an awful user experience.


See weirdly enough I do this - that's in many ways what eBay and other classified sites are for me. When I visit them I'm very much asking for people to advertise to me, convince me to consider their wares.


why would you want Ads targeting your interests? They make you spend more money than you otherwise would have. Ads work and manipulate you. To me the perfect Ads are those that are completely opposite my interest so that I don't spend that extra cash.


I usually find products by word of mouth or news articles but those are increasingly being monetized through “social marketing” and submarine articles. As time goes on everything just gets worse.


Question: have you ever bought anything from a targeted ad?

Do you go out of your way to try to buy things from ads in the media you read? Do you feel bad if you don't make buy anything that was advertised to you in said media? Why or why not?


Any benefits (to companies) of targeted ads are not worth the cost (to me) of the spying. Period.


You know the thing I don't get about this is, Mark says that he didn't plan to build a global company and wants to connect the world and serve people and all of that, but he could do that right now. All the things that people don't like about Facebook, he could get flatout rid of it. If he really cares about making the world a better place and cut some profits, that can happen right now.

I find it comical that Mark thinks targeted ads are even the controversial part. We have children gambling their parents money away, data landing in the hands of Russian psyops campaigns, political violence in the developing world being organised etc..

If targeted advertisement was the most concerning thing coming out of Facebook that'd be a great improvement. And yet they're not even able to get rid of 'friendly fraud'.


Wait, why are you taking what he says at face value? Why is anybody? He doesnt care. He. Does. Not. Care. He's just saying what he needs to, just like anybody else in his position trying to protect his business.


I mean, throwing our arms up and walking out of the room isn't going to make companies like Facebook better either. So instead of being just cynical I think everyone who works in tech, or has some influence in tech should just keep pressuring people to live up to their word.

I don't think all tech leaders are evil and I do think Facebook has legitimate use cases, so might as well advocate to at least get rid of the worst aspects than just skip the debate altogether.


I'm not saying we shouldn't hold Zuckerberg accountable. We absolutely should. But we shouldn't be measuring him by what he says. What he says is just a bunch of hot air. There are plenty of values worth protecting that doesn't rely on him being true to his word (which is worth less than zero, it's actively harmful).


TW, G, and FB have always been user surveillance and behaviour modification corporations that happen to sell ads rather than vice versa.

The idea that FB "accidentally" allowed - e.g. - Cambridge Analytica to make a game designed to harvest user data is ridiculous.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/26/the-cambridge-a...


>Mark says that he didn't plan to build a global company and wants to connect the world and serve people and all of that, but he could do that right now. All the things that people don't like about Facebook, he could get flatout rid of it

How would they pay their employees?


The same way they pay them now, they just pay them a little less. The obvious consequence of getting rid of the things that make Facebook worse is that it is going to cost them some revenue. If nobody at Facebook is willing to accept that, then they should not pretend to have any other goal than to maximise profit in the first place.


I wonder how many Facebook employees are lurking on hacker new, ready to downvote people that speak badly of facebook. I once had a comment on Facebook that got flagged that ended up with a ton of upvotes after it was clear it a genuine comment.


An important thing to note is that whether facebook has employees doing this or not, there's no shortage of services for hire that will do this for anyone.

Literally any social media site that's popular is guaranteed to have accounts whose influence is for sale.


While this is true, just for a second consider on which side the groupthink in these comments falls. The mentality that anyone who disagrees with you must be "brigading" or a paid shill is very dangerous. It's also a consistent sign of the lowest quality debate on both sides --- everyone thinks everyone else is a Soros/Mercer/Russian/Clinton shill or bot.


While I agree with your premise, I don’t think it applies in this case. It is good that people are more weary of what they read online. For one, the internet is rarely the source of truth. There are too many bad actors around. Second, if someone disagrees with a comment, they should reply to that comment with another well thought out comment. Downvoted and flagging require no effort and is an emotional reaction more than a logical argument. This can be gamed easily. Upvotes and downvotes are unhelpful in that herd mentality can easily game the system. Flagging people’s genuine comment is bad faith and has nothing to do with disagreement.


>that got flagged that ended up with a ton of upvotes after it was clear it a genuine comment.

That happened to me too!

I'm happy that HN has the flagging feature, but I suspect that feature is being abused in an organized way by rings to hide comments that run counter to certain vested interests.


It's quite remarkable how quickly certain topics on here are reduced to a sea of light grey comments. Not always the ones you might expect either.


Can you point to just one of those that consists of high quality downvoted comments? Certain topics seem to attract lower quality comments. I don't think a conspiracy theory is needed. I rarely see flagged comments that don't deserve it, although sometimes I vouch for flagged comments when I can't tell why they were flagged. Often they weren't even downvoted at all. Never seems to be the kind of comment or topic that makes me suspicious of a conspiracy/foul play though.


Many probably - and when they downvote critical comments they probabaly secretly know they might be supporting something unethical.

And if my comment - which will obviously be downvoted - changes the perception of only one single Facebook employee, then it was worth the downvotes!


Facebook will not change anything until it is forced to. It simply is in their best interest to disregard their users privacy just like they currently are doing.


Yup. It's their business model. The "users want relevant ads" is just a convenient lie that they can tell... with much less data you can do ads that are still highly relevant. But maybe you can't sell them any more, and maybe that's where Facebook is making a lot of money from. Of course, officially they claim to be not in the selling business, but that's a lie. They happily rent out their ad space to people who use the ads to collect those data.


It's not a lie. You have to understand that the majority does not think like you and actually appreciates targetted ads (me included).


>the majority I really wonder if that is the case. Here are some numbers from popular adblockers on the chrome extension store:

"Adblocker for Chrome - NoAds" - 6,545,443 users "AdGuard AdBlocker" - 5,611,340 users "Adblocker Genesis Plus" - 236,373 users "Fair AdBlocker" - 1,922,094 users "Adblock Plus - free ad blocker" - 10,000,000+ users (Google stopped counting, apparently, but their page description boasts over 500m users) "Ublock origin" - 10,000,000+ users

These are all huge numbers of people who are going out of their way to install software to never see an ad on the internet. There are probably many more people who share the same disdain for ads but don't know about adblockers, and there is likely a chunk of users who might not care very much either way.

I think it's safe to say that the proportion of people who genuinely appreciate targeted advertising on the internet is pretty small.


Google is in a great position here-- if the EFF gets everything they want in terms of privacy, Google can still show ads relevant to my current search query without remembering my search history.

But what would they suggest Facebook do instead of tracking? What ads are they supposed to show me if they're not allowed to remember things about me? There's nothing analogous to "outdoor gear in a nature magazine" that they could do instead.

I just looked through my Facebook Ad Preferences as the article suggested, and there's nothing there that would shock me. Yes, they know that I have an older model iPhone because I've used it to access their website. They know I'm a frequent traveler because they remember what IPs I've accessed their website from. They know that I'm recently married, and which zip code I live in because I told them those things. Using my zip code and some public records that anyone could Google, they can make a good guess about my race and income level. None of this is very scary because they only know what my friends and I told them about me. They can't read my email or listen to my phone calls.

Speaking of which, does anyone remember Edward Snowden? Remember when we were (rightfully) angry about NSA surveillance, the thing that does read your email and listen to your phone calls whether you consent or not, and the thing that you can't opt out of by deleting an app on your phone? They never stopped spying on us when the outrage machine moved on, and all this Facebook stuff seems petty by comparison.


>But what would they suggest Facebook do instead of tracking?

Why do they need to care whether Facebook is successful?


They don't. Facebook can join the club everyone else is in - having to get by on standard ads... or pioneer a new business model that makes it possible.

I'm not going to cry over Facebook making a few billion less considering the degree to which traditional journalism has been demolished by the reduced margins on internet advertising, and how much they encourage spreading clickbait and misinformation.

I'm not sure Twitter needs to exist, either.


A couple things Facebook could do:

Planning a party? Ad of a buffet local to the party location.

Promoting your band? How about a new guitar?

Stones fan club? Heard of their latest album?

Reading a post about nature? BAM! Outdoor gear!

Disclaimer: I don't actually use Facebook.


> Over a quarter of respondents said the categories “do not very or at all accurately represent them.”

Wow, I actually find this to be much more impressive on Facebook's side than what I had imagined. So that means that Facebook has personalized ads categories so accurate that 3 out of 4 users themselves rate them as very accurately representing them 3. That's close to 2 billion users being precisely targeted, right? I find this to be extremely disconcerting.


That's generally not how things go. I don't know the details of this exact thing, but generally there will be two "very yes" responses, a "kinda yes", a "kinda no", and to "very no". You throw out all the "kinda"s and pay attention to the "very"s. 25% "very no" is a serious black eye, it's probably like 60% "kinda"s.


The breakdown is here: http://www.pewinternet.org/2019/01/16/facebook-algorithms-an...

13% "Very accurately"

46% "Somewhat accurately"

22% "Not very accurately"

5% "Not at all accurately"

(and 3% Refused, 11% Not assigned categories)


As someone who studied some formal logic and some psychology, I have to say that providing the "Not very accurately" option is both bad logic and bad research methodology.


At this point it’s safe to say that much of the data Facebook has was acquired in ways that are questionable, and that between their treasure troves and data leaks from other companies it’s impossible to get the cat back in the bag. Simply put, your data, in current formats, is out there and it’s not under control at all.

After breaking up Facebook and punishing credit agencies whose job it was to secure data, the only path forward I see is to introduce new data formats for all the things we took for granted and push hard for the adoption of those replacements. (Facebook has all your pictures; well, do they have them in $NEW_KEYED_IMAGE_FORMAT that has your new revocable authorized keys injected by modern cameras? Facebook has your phone number; well, do they have a new 2nd-factor token that makes the phone number useless without the token? Facebook has your full name; too bad, the government has moved on to a new system that requires several new government-issued identity tokens that Facebook can’t have, making them unable to correlate your name with other aspects of your modern identity. And so forth.) Ruin it all. Make every single spec of data useless.


>Facebook has your phone number; well, do they have a new 2nd-factor token that makes the phone number useless without the token?

Useless? They already used it to infer my social graph by correlating it with my friends' contact lists. They don't really care if now there's a new token needed to actually call me.

I guess I'm saying that we can patch our problems with ID and authorization, like you're suggesting, but privacy harms go way beyond just that.


Lawmakers should probably ban and break up FB as harmful, just like we do with some controlled substances and other things.

But the scary thought is that in this unlikely scenario (or in bankruptcy), what would happen to all the data they hoard? Sold to highest bidder maybe? Published under Creative Commons license?

#toomuchdatatofail?


Nonsense. Why should the government ban Facebook? Unlike a lot of industries that consumers must use, Facebook is 100% optional. If you don't like what Facebook does, close your account and tell your friends to do the same. But if others want to use the services that Facebook offers, who are you to tell them that they can't?


Because Facebook also harms non-users. It's worse than 2nd hand smoke. It's like the drug and the junkie at the same time. It's the drug to the users, but then it's the junkie that steals things from others to continue its habit to survive.


You must have drank some serious kool aid if you think that Facebook is worse than second hand smoke.

One of those can actually kill you.


I agree - passive smoking poses a much bigger and more direct threat to our health than Facebook, obviously - but Facebook is much more insidious, since at the very least you can stay away from smokers, and at least the dangers of smoking are well-known, but there is no escaping Facebook, and most people think it to be harmless.


But at some point, it becomes a basic requirement to participate in society, and that gives the people who want out an impossible choice, not by any virtue of the platform, but by the platform hijacking the virtue of society.[0]

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG0KrT6pBPk "Changing threats to privacy"


So is using crack cocaine and meth. And somehow we chose to ban their use. And probably should tell our friends be highly suspicious of using them. This is age old conversation about how much government should protect people from themselves.


One of the problems with that is that the politicians are now dependant on facebook to promote themselves.

Where I live there is a ban on political ads on TV and I hope it's extended to facebook pages and general internet ads too. But since those in charge are addicted it's probably not going to happen until facebook shafts them directly in some way.


> But since those in charge are addicted it's probably not going to happen until facebook shafts them directly in some way.

I think the 2016 US presidential election actually started to do that: Democrats have become critical of Facebook due to Russian trolls and pro-Trump fake news, and Republicans have become critical due to the perception that "California liberals" may start deciding to suppress conservative idea on one of the widest-reaching mass media platforms.


Can we make Facebook a Schedule I narcotic? It's more addictive than marijuana. It's also taking plays out of the old tobacco playbook by working tirelessly to make it even more addictive. I'd rather see that than a bunch of Baby books that in a few decades all get bought back into the mothership again.


Nonsense. I quit it and didn’t miss it even for one day. Hacker news is far more addictive than Facebook.


That's great. I did as well. Some people can quit heroin, cigarettes, etc. Some people fall off the wagon and go back to bad habits. What's your point?


There is no evidence that Facebook is addictive. There is a difference between physical addiction and habit.


"People consistently tell us that if they're going to see ads, they want them to be relevant."

"If". This is a conditional sentence. What if the condition is not met?

What if they want to avoid ads? What do they tell FB when asked "Ads or no ads, free or small fee, which would you prefer?"

I suspect the participants in Facebook's questioning were not asked that question. Or, if they were, FB is not going to use the results in their PR and lobbying efforts.

There is a slogan one might see on the FB homepage, something like:

"Facebook is free and always will be."

As if the user's primary concern would be that they would sometime have to pay for using FB. (Not privacy or the security of their personal information.)

The slogan raises more questions than it answers.

If FB is "free" forever, then who covers the operating costs of FB?

Where does Zuckerberg's fortune come from?

Who finances the next FB acquisition of a perceived competitor or their risky bets chasing "the next big thing"?

If it isn't you the user who is about to sign up or sign in, then how much does your opinion matter to FB?

Wouldn't it stand to reason that FB would be catering to whomever is paying the bills for FB? (Not you.)

FB is not free for them.

Of course investors and advertisers paying FB expect something in return for their payments. They are not paying into FB's accounts just to keep FB afloat. They are not paying FB simply to sustain a website and apps for people to share photos, video, messages. (And that is probably all users want or need. They certainly never told FB they wanted data collection, monitoring and manipulation of their online behaviour, nor advertisements.)

Assuming FB has covered its operating costs, then whatever it is that FB must then deliver -- i.e. not the webpage and apps to help people to communicate, but the data collection, monitoring, manipulation, etc. -- comes at a further cost, not necessarily a monetary one. The question is, "Who bears it?"

I think it is becoming clear that this "cost" is more than simply "attention" or "time". There are serious impacts FB's work is having on an enormous number of people. The jury is still out on whether this is a net positive or a net negative.


"If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer. You are the product."


We are not a product either. We are just a subject as in a kingdom. Our behaviour is the product.


In truth, you are a producer and you are working for free.

The "work" is using the Facebook website or app. FB tries to make your work easy.

It is like particpating in a market study except you do not get paid for your time and participation; you are like a volunteer.

Allowing FB to show you things and record everything you do, how you react, etc.


Not really. Advertisers want access to us, not to our behavior. The goal is not to advertise to a behavior. The goal is to advertise to a person who will buy. Behavior is just a proxy to the real goal: selling something to a person.


> The truth is that ads can be made “relevant” and profitable based on the context in which they’re shown, like putting ads for outdoor gear in a nature magazine.

The other truth is that a nature magazine that relies on outdoor gear ads to operate is a conflict of interest.

I remember talking with a chief-editor of a 90's video game magazine: "It's better for us and our readers to see ads for shampoo, cars or food than video game ads. Less pressure.".


I honestly don't care about certain tracking- if Facebook knows that I talk about tea with someone, I do not mind receiving ads about tea. I strongly mind ads that are targeted for demographics, especially real estate or insurance ads whose targeted demographics explicitly exclude minorities or something. That really worries me, and the amount of data Facebook has about a person really opens up the door for discriminatory advertising.


There are many legitimate reasons to target ads demographically, e.g. I'm trying to sell certain hair care products to people of African descent, or any number of feminine products to younger women, or Viagra to older men.

Even in something like real estate it can be valid, e.g. advertising a condo in a retirement community to people over age 50.


The media is relentless. What if they are projecting their fears?


I uninstalled all Facebook appps but WhatsApp so far - but with recent happenings and announcements around WhatsApp, it needs to go too. Its a bummer, since i always liked it a lot.


Users prefer no ads... these business models are crazy, why would anyone want to use a platform where every minute someone is trying to sell you something.


Most of the US still buys cable TV, even though ad free streaming sites are cheaper and widely known. The average person really doesn’t care about ads.


How many use their DVR to skip those ads vs watching live?


The statistics I've seen indicate only about half of households that have a TV have a DVR. (And of course, not all households that have a DVR will fast forward through every ad.)

darkpuma 82 days ago [flagged]

US consumers were initially sold on cable TV when they were told that because they'd be paying for it, there wouldn't be any ads. That was forgotten quickly, proving that collectively consumers are about as smart as a box of rocks.


Try to get normal people to pay to use Facebook and your theory would be disproven. Of course users prefer no ads! But most users prefer free a whole lot more.


I think there was an article about someone out bidding the ad placement slots so they could browse in peace, seems like that might work.


Ok, let's talk about the business model involved in detail, starting with the decision process of a typical ad buyer. It starts with the value of a sale or conversion - say, your company makes $100 with each mattress they sell. You can then extrapolate based off past data how many people you need to do specific upstream events in order to get that sale. Say, 100 people need to view your website. Something like that.

So you turn around to some web advertising platform and buy an ad, and you spend something like $30 dollars to buy however many website visits it takes to drive one sale, and after adding a generous fudge factor to take into account all the uncertainty and mis-attribution you expect you wind up with a profit. There's both cost-per-click and cost-per-thousand-impressions pricing, but both end up feeding into "buy $X of advertising, which flows through our sale funnel resulting in $Y of profit, and $X is much less than $Y" at the end of the day.

Why do these advertising platforms collect data? So that instead of a generic "show this ad to whoever visits the website", you can break viewers into different categories and sell those instead. If it takes 100 website visits from a generic user to drive a sale, maybe it takes 50 instead if they just performed a search for a mattress. Or if it takes 200 impressions to get a click-through, maybe it takes 100 if it's done from a specific geographic area. Or if you end up selling to a specific job title, the SaaS contract tends to be more expensive. Whatever it is, certain slices of traffic are more valuable to the ad buyer, so this ends up flowing through to the advertiser's return-on-ad-spend math, which flows into higher ad bids. And so the advertising platforms collect a lot of data, so that when a user can be shown an ad, the platform can figure out what targeting options allow them to make the most money.

If you follow the math again back the other way through, it implies that there's a pretty powerful constraint on how relevant advertising can be to you. Specifically, the pure relevancy metric will get skewed by the producer surplus for converting a sale to you: doubling how likely you are to convert is just as relevant to the business math as doubling how much money is made off your conversion. A system that maximizes relevance of ads will not maximize advertising platform income, since it would fail to prefer a five-figure programming job placement fee over a $10 tee-shirt, and the difference in conversion value flows through to a difference in advertising bids.

From a public policy perspective, I'm pretty pessimistic about preventing these privacy issues. There's simply too much of an incentive to section out users into specific cohorts and sell access to them to the highest bidder. In other words, privacy-violating targeting is such a big deal because targeting works - it reliably convinces people to take courses of action that result in more producer surplus in the hands of the producer of the good advertised. The only saving grace is that for certain products, it'd only change which company gets the producer surplus, rather than convincing you to push more producer surplus into corporate pockets.


To go off your last point, it probably makes the economy more efficient by bringing us closer to a state of perfect information. One might even imagine that a consumer economy with this attribute can have more productivity than another which does not.


Zuck knows the average Facebook use is a "fucking dumbass", hence this is nothing more than his way of pacifying the herds. To give up precise targeting is to leave a lot of money on the table and a drop in share value. There won't be any drastic changes any time soon.


This is a man who regards his users as "Dumb fucks". No one should be surprised.


Zuck: "There's not such thing as privacy any more"

Zuck: Buy all of the houses in my neighborhood so I can have privacy.


Said in different times, taken out of context. He realised he needs privacy after he married and had children.


Cannot believe this is being downvoted. "Dumb fucks" is a direct quote from Zuckerberg that he said himself.


1) The quote gets repeated every time Zuckerberg is discussed. There's just nothing new or interesting about it.

2) How do you think you'd fare if you were held accountable - with or without the full context being understood - for every casual private utterance you made at the age of 19?

If you think you'd come out well, you'd have to be an extreme outlier, given that neuroscience tells us the parts of the brain that control rational decision-making don't fully develop until about age 25.

Criticise Zuckerberg and Facebook all you like, but let's do it based on current behaviour, not that of someone who was barely more than a child.


It doesn't have to be new, it doesn't have to be interesting, it has to be enough, in context of something that matters enough.

And it's not just any old random private utterance, either. Did he ever own up to it? If not, it's still relevant. We're not talking about something that someone since acknowledged and made right, but which is still brought up even though they totally changed.

> Criticise Zuckerberg and Facebook all you like, but let's do it based on current behaviour

Feel free to, it's not like there isn't plenty of material there. But don't say "let's X" because you can't make the case that someone "shouldn't not-X".

> the brain that control rational decision-making don't fully develop until about age 25

What does rational decision-making have to do with any of this? That might help someone who is a scumbag with not hiding it better, but the criticism has to to with empathy and moral development, which starts at early age. And "fully developed" is just a weasel word in this context either way, "sufficiently developed" I could see.

But if you seriously want to claim everybody has in their life said things of that caliber (rather than first generalizing it into "things we would be ashamed to repeat"), I for one would take you up on that in a heartbeat. I hated people who exploit the ignorance or stupidity of others since I can remember, since grade school at least. I still said nasty things during my life I would be ashamed to repeat, but never from a position of actually deceiving or exploiting someone, not to mention dozens or even hundreds of people. Either that's true for most people, then you're utterly wrong, or I'm an exception, then I should get a prize for being such an exceptionally decent person.

"Talking shit" about people is not the same as mocking them during, after and before you actually do victimize them, and forgiving people things they didn't even repent of isn't that noble either.


The giveaway here is that anyone who invokes this comment, only ever does so while determinedly extrapolating the worst-possible motives and character traits from it, rather than engaging in a nuanced, fair-minded discussion.

I can imagine there being quite an interesting discussion that could be had about a 19-year-old future tech billionaire making this comment, and what it says about their psychology at that time and in the time since, but I've not ever seen anyone raise it with the intention of having that kind of discussion.

It's only ever invoked as an attempted mic-drop, but due to being entirely repetitive and predictable, has no rhetorical impact at all.


> The giveaway here is that anyone who invokes this comment, only ever does so while determinedly extrapolating the worst-possible motives and character traits from it,

The giveaway is that you feel comfortable to say this when in this instance, the argument is basically "it shouldn't be surprising he talks down to users", while complaining about lack of nuance or fairness.


People who are invested in this issue could do with some soul-searching about their need to engage in what looks every bit like good old-fashioned scapegoating.

I get the temptation to trace the origin of much of the world's current mess to some douchey thing a 19-year-old said 15 years ago.

But over-simplifying complex problems down to a single external cause and pinning the blame for it all on some other person has a very long but not very distinguished history.

It only takes a little awareness of history and philosophy to realise what this is really all about.


> I get the temptation to trace the origin of much of the world's current mess to some douchey thing a 19-year-old said 15 years ago.

How could you not, you just made it up. You're probably the world's primary expert on this thing you just invented.


Scapegoating in its literal form is described in the old testament. And the concept Jung described as the "shadow" 70+ years ago, goes back to ancient mythology.

Your desire to attack and sneer rather than reflect and learn is notable.


The real question is whether Facebook is the worst invention of all time, or just of the past 100 years.




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