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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
> 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)
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.
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 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.
I don't want to pay for YouTube. I want to pay for basic Google Search without ads cluttering up every search page.
Also, I'd need tracking disabled as well as the ads.
It would be nice if other websites would stop depending on Google ad revenue as well, but that's a separate issue.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
In other words, the businesses aren't providing anything worth paying for, since users won't pay for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
it is only a issue cause how the net began and why some companies have eased into these models.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
That being said, I gotta say kudos to the business end of his operation.
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 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.
Sure the tracking ads aren't as good, but imagine they were just as highly targeted and relavent.
I could imagine tracking ads to be more relevant, but they're not. So I don't really see the point of that hypothetical.
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.
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.
The NYT cut behavioral advertising in Europe after the GDPR and still grew revenue:
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?
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.
Edit: the problem is that the 'free' ad driven business model makes it extremely difficult for non-free legitimate business models to succeed.
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...).
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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?
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'.
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.
The idea that FB "accidentally" allowed - e.g. - Cambridge Analytica to make a game designed to harvest user data is ridiculous.
How would they pay their employees?
Literally any social media site that's popular is guaranteed to have accounts whose influence is for sale.
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.
And if my comment - which will obviously be downvoted - changes the perception of only one single Facebook employee, then it was worth the downvotes!
"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.
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.
Why do they need to care whether Facebook is successful?
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.
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.
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.
13% "Very accurately"
46% "Somewhat accurately"
22% "Not very accurately"
5% "Not at all accurately"
(and 3% Refused, 11% Not assigned categories)
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.
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.
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?
One of those can actually kill you.
: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG0KrT6pBPk "Changing threats to privacy"
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.".
Even in something like real estate it can be valid, e.g. advertising a condo in a retirement community to people over age 50.
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.
Zuck: Buy all of the houses in my neighborhood so I can have privacy.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
How could you not, you just made it up. You're probably the world's primary expert on this thing you just invented.
Your desire to attack and sneer rather than reflect and learn is notable.