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550 points by polskibus 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 356 comments





I'm really thankful I haven't yet had a job where all I'm developing is new ways to force people to see ads. Imagine working on a 'feature' like this for weeks or months, and the end result is simply that people who don't want to see ads now have to see ads.

I did this. I helped build the Air Installer network. I truly regret it. If you look up that name, all you get is people worried that it installed viruses or malware (guess what... it did) and how to remove it. The other results you'll see include the owners trying to sell its virtues. As though it's anything other than a way to exploit unsuspecting internet users for money.

I was young and naive, and I didn't think we were using it for malicious purposes. It ended up being worse than I imagined in the end. I left on bad terms and felt like a complete fool. These days I hear adtech companies pay well - I didn't even get that. Just a genuine waste of life and career time.

I discourage as many developers as I can from going into adtech. I met the worst types of people in that industry.


I'd urge you to not be too hard on yourself.

As much as people don't enjoy the morals of adtech, you got to experience scale, and apparently highly reliable code whilst early in your career. You can't blame yourself as a self described "young and naive" person for what others did later.


I was once a victim and it feels terrible. Since I had experienced it, I have big hate for such people. I don't want to write all my anger here, but please don't ever join such company.

There are worse jobs at Facebook....

https://www.revealnews.org/article/facebook-knowingly-duped-...

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19002596

Imagine being part of the gaggle of fuckheads who decided to not implement simple preventative measures that made it harder for children to accidentally spend thousands of dollars in manipulative games.

Or their peers who who helped strategize more effective tricks for game developers to use so children would be more likely to need a multi-thousand dollar refund Facebook could refuse.


This is on the VPs and Zuckerberg really. I am actually surprised because credit cards companies would likely side with the card holder.. and Facebook had enough money in the bank where growth was their primary concern. It's not like they weren't going to turn on ads at some point, so the premature optimization here for money seems short sighted in hind sight. I remember when developing Facebook apps was all the rage and you could make some serious $$$. That in turn led to the data sharing scandals we see today. Both the game monetization and data sharing strategies will have probably hurt Facebook overall than if they just pursued an ads strategy... especially if Congress and the EU crack down.

It sounds like a fun challenge.

It's just ads. If we're talking about some ad for a coffee maker, whatever.

Now their whole selling data to unscrupulous folks, taking money from parents via their kids, selling fake news that makes people hate other people (now that gets into the ad space...) ....

That's where I'd want to nope out.


Thank you. I feel like ads have such a bad rap because of the state of the internet. Yet, what does everyone expect? Is it shocking that content providers want money for their product?

And yes, I know, some sites and ads do terrible things. The actively hurt viewership. BUT, isn't that the same with everything? Even my groceries are getting worse as companies seek ways to increase profits without pissing me off; they swap out quality ingredients with cheaper ingredients. They change the shape of the bottle to reduce volume and hope I don't notice that the price effectively went up. Etc.

My point is not in defense of these practices. Rather, I'm defending "no shit" in all of this; welcome to the real world. Everyone is going to try and take and make as much as they can before it starts to actively show a negative impact.

So who is to really blame? Us, of course. Consumers of these practices are largely okay with it as is.

So yea, I don't have a problem with ads. They sort themselves out because people will stop using the products. I do have a problem with selling out data though, as people are largely unaware of the consequences and severity of what is actually happening. Ads however though? Who cares.

edit: Sidenote, I imagine an argument could be made that all and any ads are terrible. I definitely could agree with that, but getting rid of all advertisements across all mediums online or offline seems a tall order, and out of scope for this discussion heh.


To me ads are fundamentally about misleading you, manipulating you, or in short: making you do something that you wouldn't do otherwise. This to me is morally wrong on a base level. Advertisement is an attempt to attack/manipulate your vulnerable mammal brain to make you do something against your interest (be it buying a product, voting on someone, etc). In other words, to do something that you wouldn't do rationally, or wouldn't do without this prodding.

What if I took your argument, and instead of making it about ads, made it about all human communication? Isn’t all communication intended to influence the thoughts of the listener? I don’t think attempting to influence someone’s behavior to your gain by providing them with information is inherently immoral - we all do it constantly (eg. when messaging a friend to ask them over for a drink, I am manipulating them so I can enjoy their company).

Unlike a lot of communication, advertising is paid, which is certainly relevant. I get it if you’re against commerce as a whole - if you believe that any interaction motivated by money is inherently exploitative, I’m sympathetic.

But if you aren’t willing to go there, advertising is a healthy part of a well-functioning economy. If you’ve invested to develop a good product, one that users would happily pay for, one that has positive value (ie. you can make it for $10, it provides $30 of utility to the user, so you can sell it to the user for $20 and you and the user both gained $10 in utility), what is wrong with paying to inform people about it? Organic word of mouth is slow - if that were the only way we could find out about changes in what is available in the market, much less investment could be profitably made in improved products. Positive investment ROI requires a reliable pathway to tell people that you have something they might want, and advertisement is perfectly suited to fill that role.


A lot of communication is about honest expressions of one's experience, and reflecting others' such experiences, as well as asking for feedback, or asking for another's input.

These modes are all very foreign to advertising.


This is a very immature view of advertising, that, unfortunately many advertisers share -- and it leads to scummy ads, with no eye on the long term relationship with the person viewing the ad.

However, many ads are not deceptive in any way, and instead simply offer something of value to people who may be interested, without any deceit, psychological trick, or ulterior motive.

Just because there are bad ads does not mean that all advertising is bad.


If I were king, all ads would have to be black text on white background, containing ONLY the name of the product/service, its description and advertised merits. The description would have to consist of well-defined and falsifiable statements only.

Prediction: in your kingdom, product names would evolve to become "World's Best Hair Tonic" with "World's Best" being the company's brand/trade name...

If I remember correctly, calling products "best" or similar is illegal in Sweden unless you can point to verifiable neutral source such as product tests etc. I'm sure it's corruptible to some extent, but at least it is possible to prevent these things at large.

Except it would be: World's Best(tm) Hair Tonic -- I think I could parse that correctly.

What Google AdWords used to be, just plain text that was generally pretty relevant to whatever you were viewing, clearly defined as an ad.

Yep that was pretty cool, I respected Google for it.

> If I were king, all ads would have to be black text on white background, containing ONLY the name of the product/service, its description and advertised merits. The description would have to consist of well-defined and falsifiable statements only.

Sorry, but for a lot of products this approach is simply ridiculous. I want to know what I'm buying looks like before I buy it in many cases. E.g., clothes, sportswear, footwear, furniture, electric guitars - even food.


You’re right - we should allow one photo - presenting product only (i.e. without pictures of scandily clad women used to sell for example wallpaper paste, as is common in my country), against a clear background.

If you go to your local supermarket, you will see many branded items with varied fonts and pictures. This packaging is essentially an ad for the item. If you removed that, which you could do, as some brands like Brandless have done, people would not know what to buy. The packaging itself provides value. So too with ads online.

And the product's non-obfuscated cost.

I'd say the ads are still deceptive even if they weren't created with that intention. It doesn't need to be sneaky, but if it's unsolicited then the consumer didn't opt for their attention to be steered toward it.

edit: removed example as it distracts from the point.


Say you develop some really cool new product that will really help people's lives be better... how would you suggest you get people to know about it?

Perhaps a webpage that people can go to to browse products (an “adstore”).

> if it's unsolicited then the consumer didn't opt for their attention to be steered toward it.

Isn't that everything in the world, always?

Why do I have to walk past the cereal to get to the milk on a supermarket, why I am being so deceived? After all, I didn't consent to being bombarded by all those car emblems on the highway on my way to work, and I definitely didn't agree to see the orange bar at the top of this page, that "Y" is hunting me I say! why is my attention being stolen away?


> Isn't that everything in the world, always?

If you're saying advertising is a thing in the world, that's correct.

We have the ability to adjust this particular aspect of our landscape but your questions illustrate it pretty well. Most people don't seem to get very upset about advertising, and therefore it continues to surround us. I don't think there's anything that any one of us can do at this point, we're collectively shaping this world into the one with all the cereal and car emblems and have been for a while.


You are still using the reasoning of "Here is an example of a bad ad, therefore all ads are bad."

I don't believe so.

Advertisements done right should be a passive consumption model.

I want this -> bunch of leads for what you are looking for.

Advertisements nowadays are focused around an active attention-consuming model. You have companies fighting for any in they can to get themselves situated at the forefront of your attention.

There is really no excuse for it, and the dark paths attach has opened in terms of advancing surveillance technology, and harboring an insatiable appetite for as much information on potential buyer's as possible has frankly ruined any credibility or claim to benignity that I could be bothered to extend to the industry.

I could even tolerate blatant puffery if advertising would just cut out all the 1984-tier privacy destroying behavior.

I don't mind ads. I mind mental intrusiveness and privacy invasion 24/7/365.


People don't act against their self-interest unless deceived. There are misleading ads that are immoral like "payday loans can get you out of debt", but the vast majority of ads (that I see) are informational, like "store X is having a sale". That's just giving me information to make a decision about ("$N is a reasonable amount for me to spend on this thing I didn't previously want").

I could make a similarly wrong blanket statement about news articles. "The news is fundamentally about misleading you into believing something against your interest". I could make a blanket statement about conversations between two people. "Listening to someone talk is letting them manipulate your brain into thinking something it wouldn't without this prodding". There are deceptive ads, news articles, and people, but you don't have a good moral argument against all ads, news articles, or people.


> People don't act against their self-interest unless deceived.

They can also be stupid.


Exactly. I don't remember the words but my parents were like "it's an ad, don't believe it." It was the time of TV commercials and little else but I think it's still a good piece of advice now.

"Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket."

Gordon Comstock - George Orwell's protagonist in Keep the Aspidistra Flying


I'm not the biggest fan of advertising, but "here's a funny quote that a fictional person said" doesn't really bring much to the discussion

I choose to believe we could have a better world, where loading a local news site doesn’t look like a virus-ridden Windows 95 desktop, where just trying to talk with friends isn’t interrupted by.. (checks twitter) payday loan lobbyists. Where the smartest people of my generation are using every dark pattern in the world to take my attention away from what matters to me.

I think it is very possible, even with ads.

So ads are often a place where dark patterns happen and such.

But take Apple for instance. Apple seems to respect user privacy to a fairly far extent compared to say, Facebook, Google.

If apple wasn't around ... we would probably say something about "you can't have these fancy smartphones without someone stealing all your data". But clearly Apple can do it (for a lot of reasons)... so we know it is possible.

I feel the same way about ads, it might be different, but it can be done.


Privacy is one of the features that helps the iPhone sell for over a thousand dollars.

I remember one of the Amazon Kindles sold 2 versions: one with ads that was cheaper, and one without ads that was more expensive. So people do pay at least to get rid of ads (I'm sure both versions collect your data), it just costs more, and most end up not being able to afford it.

For all the good in the iPhone, year after year android gains ground worldwide by virtue of being cheaper and more flexible.


Not sure you can conclude that most can’t afford the ad free version from what’s publicly known.

They still sell both versions, presumably if only very very few people bought the ad free version then they would have stopped selling it.


Just had to replace a Kindle. They sell one version now, with ads, and you can turn them off permanently by making a one-time payment though your Amazon account. They also offer it as a check box during checkout.

I bought a Kindle a few years ago. At the time I wasn't working regularly so didn't have much cash. As a result I didn't check the box and have ads on my Kindle.

The ads are almost entirely irrelevant but seem benign enough since they're always for other books (mostly self-published, I suspect) in the Kindle store. They're also limited to the lock screen so hardly intrusive.

It's only recently that I've occasionally considered paying the £10 (?) to get rid of them and the reason is pure vanity: I'm now (fortunate to be) in a fancy job with a fancy title and I don't want to look like a cheapskate.


Apple's a little better, but anecdotally speaking after deleting facebook from my phone I switched to Apple's News application for reading news on my iPhone, and there are dark patterns in play, or maybe it could be called 'curating' the feed. Point is, there's algorithms and sponsored content hiding inside that app that I don't have much control over. I'd like to read a newspaper like there used to be where we're viewing the same version and the same ads. Apple's not completely innocent they're just not direct about it. I wish they were.

Apple makes massive profits on the hardware they sell you, that's how they can do it. The software companies that give it away "for free" (Facebook, Google) don't have any way other than advertising or selling/using data to make money.

Where do I sign up for a free android phone?

The _software_ companies give [their _software_] away for free.

You can build a phone if you want, install Android on it, and sell it without paying Google anything. There's a ton of Chinese companies doing just that; Amazon does it too.


It's called a subscription and even with that local newspapers were filled with pages of color soaked ads. Dark patterns existed before your generation..

Kinda seems like you just wanted to assert the person you're responding to is ignorant, when in actuality news papers advertisements are very inherently less "dark" than ads on websites. News papers are static content - they are in no way interactive, which is normally where "dark" advertisements live. Click a thing, see an add. News papers cannot dynamically throw ads into your face, where websites can.

But yes, in previous generations bad things were bad, too.


Your point that ads have always existed is well taken, but if newspapers looked like a local news site today people wouldn't have bought them (its more akin to the free weekly tabloids than a real newspaper). Newspapers used to make money through classifieds in addition to subscriptions. If only there were local-oriented services newspapers could provide - I hope someone figures out a better model soon.

Newspapers had a monopoly on distributing written information back in the day: printing presses, typesetters, journalists, delivery staff, etc are all expensive. Now anyone can self-publish on Medium. Technology has changed the game, and we whatever business models work in the future probably won't be the same as those in the past.

Then pay money for those services.

Gladly. Its not an option.

Many local news sites now have online subscriptions available. Combined with an ad blocker, it seems as though you can generally get a pleasant local news experience, while still supporting the publisher.

> Many local news sites now have online subscriptions available. Combined with an ad blocker

It's kind of disappointing that news website still have ads even after I decide to pay for access.


Didn't newspapers do the same thing? You paid for a (physical) subscription to the newspaper which also had ads in it.

Ads in their current manifestation are inseparably connected to both the surveillance practices and the security-busting delivery of potential malware to user devices. Google and others could put a stop to both of these, but there is zero possibility they will do so.

Ads themselves are .. not innocent, but not in-and-of-themselves evil. I rather like turn of the century advertising because it's mostly statements about products and their advantages. It wasn't until the Bernays/Freud era that ads switched from trying to persuade you as to the product's merits to trying to manipulate the consumer by essentially selling an identity. That practice is comparably dark.


It is us that's the problem. We keep using these services.

Your groceries getting worse remind me that I used to enjoy Blue Diamond almonds. I'd get them at the local Walgreens. Then Walgreens decided to replace them with their own "Nice" brand. They were crap. Not even remotely the same quality, first bag was barely cheweble, and of course not the same flavors. They did the same with Q-Tips, replacing them for "Nice" cotton swabs. Again, complete crap, cotton falls off, not as thick, sticks break easily.

But even worse, almost no one except me cared. If people cared it wouldn't last because people would stop buying the crap brand and Walgreen would get the message but most people don't care

This came up with my roommate who basically always bought the cheapest spaghetti sauce. When I asked her if why that one she said effectively "any spaghetti sauce is the same as another so I just always get the cheapest" to which I was shocked. They aren't remotely similar to my taste buds and also now understanding why everything gets worse, because most people apparently are fine with anything or can't tell the difference or don't find the differences important.

It's the same for FB. Most of my friends are unlikely to ever leave. Whether it's because it doesn't bother them or because they don't think about it or because they just take it all for granted, it seems to be a combination of all of those which effectively means FB gets no signal to make things better.

Heck, as another example the complaints are loud here about the MacbookPro's keyboard/touchbar/weight etc but sales are higher than ever which means the complainers are not remotely a signal to change things.


>They change the shape of the bottle to reduce volume and hope I don't notice that the price effectively went up.

One of the memories that really sticks out for me from working in a grocery store was the time the Breyer's ice cream increased in price that way.

They came in a 5 case of 500g containers. They sold regularly for around $5 or something like that. They went on sale for 2 for $5 for about 2 weeks. After the first week they started showing up in 4 packs of 430g containers. I remember having to rearrange the shelves to get them to fit properly, theit shape was slightly different. After the sale ended they went to $6 for a 430g container. It was the first time I noticed and really thought about price increases by lowering the volume of containers.

That was also around the time they stopped putting handles on the big ice cream pails. A lot of people complained about it, they were no good for berry picking any more. One day I asked the dairy delivery guy about it. He said someone figured out that the handles added 2¢ to the cost of each bucked and some accountant figured out that by removing them they saved, I can't remember the exact number, but in the millions of dollars each year.


And just imagine all the fun manufacturers can have when ice cream is sold by volume instead of weight...

> Even my groceries are getting worse as companies seek ways to increase profits without pissing me off; they swap out quality ingredients with cheaper ingredients. They change the shape of the bottle to reduce volume and hope I don't notice that the price effectively went up. Etc.

If you stick to fresh produce and bulk dry goods, you're pretty much immune to those problems. Incidentally, those happen to be products that never get advertised for.


That is not necessarily true, as industrial food companies increasingly push for larger yield per acre, they do not account for the objective quality of the product. They're looking to maximize their profit; and quality is just one metric among many others that have an impact on this.

Exactly. I've taken to buying 'organic' carrots that are smaller and have had the leaves left on simply because they taste like.. well, carrots. The huge carrots in the 2 lb bag mass-market bag are tasteless in comparison.

I'm otherwise as far away from the normal target audience of 'organic' foods as you can get; I'm decidedly pro-GMO, etc.


Yes, absolutely, but this typically feels like companies responding to market preferences of consumers for the cheapest/brightest fruits/vegetables, rather than the feeling I get from companies marketing typical packaged products, which is of malicious deception.

Thing is though, the state of the internet—all that shady stuff Facebook does—is because of ads. Ads aren’t something you can pluck out of a social/technical context and talk about as though they’re in a vacuum. When a site’s existence depends on ad revenue, every single product decision becomes tainted by “how can we hook people?” I can’t find the article now but there was a great one a while back about this very topic. The thesis was that the environment produced by advertising—not the ads themselves, but their effect on everything around them—is nothing short of psychological warfare.

So it’s not just whether “ads” are good or bad. And it’s not enough just to block them. They are like a virulent symbiote. They seep into every aspect of the platform they live on, because the platform’s survival depends on them. And then the infected platforms poison their users, ad blockers or no.


If "no shit" is an appropriate response to advertiser behavior, I'd want "no shit" to also be an appropriate response to users installing ad blockers, instead of whining: https://www.adweek.com/digital/yahoo-exec-calls-out-mobile-a...

Agree 100%. Ad blockers are akin to piracy which has been a natural force on the consumer side. Legalities aside, if you make consumers UX miserable enough they often work through it - and I support that.

My comment was mainly in the context of ads being discussed as some anti-consumer device. Where as I view them as a natural part of the payment ecosystem. Too many ads are akin to products being too expensive - and unsurprisingly shift consumers towards "piracy".

It's a natural battle.


As I see it, the issue is that ads are being sold to us as something that is for our own benefit, and then go on to collect data for personalized ads that we do not even want.

It is not shocking that content providers want money, but perhaps it would be better if it would not be forced, and if developers would not actively try to make it more and more difficult for us to get rid of. You could just ask instead. Wikipedia seems to do fine.


> I imagine an argument could be made that all and any ads are terrible.

And I'll be happy to make it.

Advertising in its most optimized form is terrible, and it's terrible in ways that most people aren't even conscious of. Even in the relatively plodding print and television markets, modern advertising relies on numerous principles of human psychology to subtly alter the way you think about a product, a company, or yourself [1] [2]. Worse still, these tactics are being used on children, in a society which otherwise broadly accepts that mind-altering substances are especially harmful to youth [3].

Advertising is furthermore in a codependent relationship with the content it's injected into. For the advertising to be successful, it has to compete against the content for your attention. Likewise, the content needs to compete against its ads for your attention too. The natural result of this co-opetition between ads and content has been the clickbait headlines and junk content that are ubiquitous now, that everyone hates but can't seem to avoid [4], and this is having deep and powerful impacts on how we all view the world.

Recently, other organizations -- like nation-states -- have realized that they can use all of the psychological effects understood by the advertising industry against a population which willingly accepts advertising while believing that it's immune to its effects. These organizations are weaponizing advertising, making us hate each other over our politics [5] and further dividing us ideologically [6].

And these are just advertising's intentional effects, the stuff that works the way that the advertising industry wants it to work, or as well as they can figure out right now anyway. Sometimes they get it wrong, especially when it comes to trying to market products to people using the vast wealth of personal information that we unknowingly provide with every page view. When this data model makes mistakes, it ends up marketing an endless stream of baby-related products and services to parents whose child didn't survive birth [7].

The future of the web is not dependent on advertising. Some are arguing that the future of the web, and maybe even the health of our society, depends on weaning ourselves off of the advertising tit [8]. Some of us grew up along with the web and remember what it was like before its unfortunate marriage to advertising, and we hope that it comes to its senses and gets a divorce while it still has a chance at a healthy relationship with society.

Advertising is inherently unhealthy for our psychology. It can't help it. Like everything else, it wants to be as successful as it can, and its success depends on how effectively it can manipulate us while fooling us into believing we're not being manipulated at all.

[1]: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ulterior-motives/201...

[2]: https://prezi.com/2cekh73hothi/psychological-effects-of-adve...

[3]: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/Supplement...

[4]: https://medium.com/@tobiasrose/the-enemy-in-our-feeds-e86511...

[5]: https://fathom.info/fakebook/

[6]: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-ads/majority-of-...

[7]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18665048

[8]: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/08/adver...


I'm surprised this comment hasn't gotten more attention. This is an extraordinarily succinct take down of the evils of advertising as it relates to our mental health and well- being as a society.

I run an old collaborative writing (roleplaying) forum populated mostly by teens that's paid for by a banner ad.

When I read HN comments about ads, I see people who are forgetting what ads have actually gotten us: more people able to create more things that are available to everyone for free.

HNers like to say "well, then adapt your business model," but look at the incredibly friction that exists for getting people to take their wallet out. On the frontpage of HN as we speak, there's an entire thread of people who justify why they won't even pay Spotify $10/mo. Where does that leave the rest of us who offer something much, much less than a ubiquitous, unlimited music-streaming platform?

Let's be more concrete and look at the forum that I run. I grew up on roleplaying MUD servers and forums, and it helped me develop the passion and habit for writing early on in my life. I started a forum as a teen to continue the interest, and eventually it was popular enough for ads to pay my rent through uni while running a community for young writers.

These days, my banner ad barely breaks even with server costs. It now makes less than 1/15th of what it did at the peak of its ad revenue with about the same traffic.

I'm left with a decision: can I afford to run the site as a charity?

How would the HN champion of "adapt or die" address my scenario? Ads are a middle ground between being a charity and paywalling your website, and the vast majority of websites don't fall at either extreme. Suggesting that this massive chunk on the internet doesn't deserve to exist, like my forum that gets teens into writing, seems incredibly extreme.

The writing is on the wall, though. Just seems like a damn shame.


The problem isn't ads per se, it's all the crap around them:

  * invasive, industrial grade stalking
  * wasted screen real estate 
  * trackers
  * page load time 
  * bloated third-party garbage
  * blinkenlights
  * dark patterns
  * bandwidth hogging
  * CPU hogging
  * drive-by-malware potential (compromised ad network is an incredibly powerful attack vector)
And so on. Quite a long time ago I actually wrote down what I consider the minimum standard for acceptable ads: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10521930 ; anything more intrusive is as good as toxic waste.

Facebook ads are among the most reasonable of ads. They appear like normal content and are easy to scroll past. You can even hide ads that aren’t relevant or that you don’t like seeing. You guys are crazy.

>I run an old collaborative writing (roleplaying) forum populated mostly by teens that's paid for by a banner ad.

I know this is going to sound like heresy nowadays, but you could always just run your forum and pay for it out of pocket. Believe it or not, once upon a time, a huge portion of the web was made up of labors of love like that!


I've run a similar role playing style site since middle school. It introduced me to more than just a habit of writing. It also introduced me to programming at a young age and in a community and school system where that would not have happened otherwise.

I run mine as a charity now. Its less than 200 dollars a year. The ads just aren't even worth keeping up. Before and during college, when I couldn't afford the 200, I solicited donations from former users who had used the site as a teen but since grew out of it. That worked really well.

Good luck.


People love to complain about giving up money when they don't understand the value they'll get from something. Make it clear what you're selling and why it's worth $10 / month, and people will pay you. It's not as big of a problem as you think.

We can still create a world of free products that enable what your forum has -- it just needs a simple business model like, Hey, do you enjoy writing here? Send me $5! Then subsidize your free users with paid ones. If you have a day job, you can consider it a success when the servers are paid for every month.

There is nothing inherent about the internet that says it must be run on ads. That's just what ad-powered platforms want you to think, to justify their own terrible existence. Get creative, put on the tiniest of marketing hats, and just ask people. There is no quick and easy lunch, but I think you'll be surprised by what you find.


> Make it clear what you're selling and why it's worth $10 / month, and people will pay you. It's not as big of a problem as you think.

If only all buyers were as rational as you. IMO the problem is bigger (by far) than just make a case and people pay.


I guess my point was that parent shouldn't assume defeat based on some HN comments and the fact that "everybody just does ads." My statement is a simplification of what it takes to sell a product, yes, but IMHO this still isn't a big enough obstacle to justify the idea that "ads are the only way."

What are some of the bigger problems you see?


My problem is that even with a sold, demonstrable value-prop and 100s of solid references it's not trivial to get paid by clients. Getting customers is Hard Work(tm).

I hate intrusive ads but totally see why some folks "need" that for their revenue, selling is hard, dropping bulshot ads on my site is trivial.

For my own blog/content I've generated more revenue selling consulting labour from prospects finding my blog than from ads.


As a question of curiosity, roughly how much traffic does your site get and how much are you paying for your servers? I run a few sites to do various minor personal things. None of them get much traffic, and my monthly hosting costs are in the neighborhood of $20 or so, and that's probably using servers that are more powerful than what's really needed.

It's not shocking content providers want money. It is somewhat shocking that their way of making money is making user experience worse and essentially engaging in low-grade war with their users - not outright war, but sneaky cold war stuff, where you officially friends with them but unofficially spy on them, steal their secrets, subvert their actions to your benefit, make their life worse if it can make yours a bit better, and so on. It's not exactly how we commonly view customer-provider relationship.

It's not shocking that content providers want money. It's shocking that pushing ads and selling data are the only ways they can conceive of doing it.

I think advertising has value, but there is a really good article about why targeted advertising is bad:

https://zgp.org/targeted-advertising-considered-harmful/

The tl;dr is basically that one of the key aspects of advertising is signaling (i.e. we stand behind our product so much that we can waste this much money advertising it to you)... with targeted advertising, it becomes so cheap display an ad to only a few people that you lose that signal, and you have no way of knowing if a product is total crap or not.


There was an study done on some students from top universities in US.

The question they were given was, If they would work for Facebook given all kinds of scandals they were involved in. A lot of people said they wouldn't work for Facebook but later when some of them received offers nobody declined those offers and went on to work for Facebook.

I am wondering if the same experiment on people already working in industry will yield different results.


Students all have debts.

When reality hits that these debts need to be paid, principles go out the window.

I don’t blame anyone for this. In the end you have to look after number one. It’s just sad this is the reality.


It's hard to infer any conclusion from those numbers because we don't know how many people refused to interview and never received an offer.

Facebook pays REALLY well. That's a big deal fresh out of school too. Not all of us have the luxury of turning down a giant paycheck.


"Principles have no real force except when one is well fed."

-Mark Twain


I like to think it would be different, but I guess I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't any different.

Not likely I'll ever have to consider that problem so I'll remain morally confidant... if only due to circumstance ;)


Much harder when you're working on a product you also happen to love and use. And it creeps up, more and more, one ad there, and one more, and an inerstitial, and then inside the emails too, let's hide the hide amongst the real stuff and ... At some point you feel like you're desecrating a body.

No doubt about it man, that happens. I don't disagree.

This particular "creative solution" is adding wasted data transmission and slowing down page responsiveness to _everyone_'s use of the site to combat a few people that feel strongly about their privacy or sanity of mind[1]. All of these tactics are terrible.

[1] Skipping over ads takes effort from your brain and it seems to be training us all to be worse readers. In the modern world of sponsored messages and content it pays to skim information for honesty before digesting it and it seems (IMO) to be hurting our general level of reading comprehension and attention.


It's their site. If they want to deliver information I'm sure they don't consider it wasted. You talk as if people go to Facebook to receive data transmissions as efficiently as possible. I've never met a development company which cares about that at such a low level. Especially if it means more exposure on their website for ads, which is how they get money.

Skimming is taught in school from a young age. It's an appropriate skill. It doesn't take much brain power to read something in a detailed way or in a quick way. The notion that we are so susceptible to our brains being influenced by things like this is ridiculous.

But still fuck Facebook.


> Skimming is taught in school from a young age. It's an appropriate skill. It doesn't take much brain power to read something in a detailed way or in a quick way. The notion that we are so susceptible to our brains being influenced by things like this is ridiculous.

I learned to read in kindergarten. Between private kindergarten, public grade school, and state university, I have _never_ been taught to skim things quickly; rather I was taught what was called _reading comprehension_ where we were told to read a small story of 1-2 paragraphs, occasionally being given a short amount of time to read it only once, and were then asked questions about it; later this turned into class discussions, where we occasionally debated wording that would likely have been missed entirely if one was skimming. I have _never_ had a teacher tell me that I should skim a text, and I was in fact instructed not to do so as it would cause me to miss things. As a rather fast reader in school, I was occasionally suspected of not reading an assignment thoroughly and told to read the whole thing.

Having said all that, there is a great deal to be said on how things you _don't_ think about affect you. You don't have to be actively paying attention to something to remember it, otherwise billboards wouldn't exist; neither would the ads on the back inner/outer cover of a magazine or the back cover of a newspaper. Nor would product placement be a thing.


Do you think creating something that goes counter to your users desire is not unscrupulous?

The only difference between the first stage of the pipeline and the rest is a matter of degree.


I desire free eggs at the grocery store. Grocery store doesn't want to give me them. Grocery store is unscrupulous.

Disagree. How do you suggest they operate their business? Does this extend to print magazines and newspapers--do you suggest they stop running ads and just give away their product? Do you think Facebook should start charging a subscription?

What users want, naturally, is everything awesome free forever. It's naive, though, to things that everyone should always get what they want.

As other have said, I agree there are hard limits and Facebook has violated them, in terms of selling data and collecting it without user's permission. That's different.


Selling data is bad but serving what is effectively malware is not?

Sure, but FB's real "users" are the advertisers. They love this. The people who think they are FB users are just resources, inputs to the money machine. As long as the resources aren't leaving the platform, who cares?

>counter to your users desire is not unscrupulous?

I mean no... they don't have to my (or my employer's) site.

I love doing things users like, and I do my best to do that often, but straight up it's not their site. If someone wants ads on their site ... I don't see a problem with that on the most basic level.

Fake news, other content, we're talking about something else.


Wendy's charging me $1.89 for a junior bacon cheeseburger goes against my desire; I'd rather get it for free. That doesn't mean it's unscrupulous for them to charge me $1.89 for a cheeseburger.

It can be demoralizing to work on anything that’s against the end user’s satisfaction, regardless of whether it’s actually evil.

I remember working as a junior developer on a desktop app that had so many fatal bugs that it crashed very often. Instead of being given the time needed to fix the crashes, I was told to build this watchdog ‘launcher’ EXE that would simply re-run the application every time it crashed, restoring its state, in the hopes of fooling the user into believing it doesn’t crash so much.

Was it technically interesting for a freshly minted engineer? Yea! Was it soul crushing to be working on an obviously half-assed attempt to mollify angry users instead of making them happy? Yes.

I was also asked to write code that cheated benchmarks. Definitely had a “what-am-I-doing-with-my-life” moment.


Hey, you invented crash-only software! https://lwn.net/Articles/191059/

Those two scenarios aren't mutually exclusive. One hand washes the other, the distinction is only between who gives the order and who carries it out.

I think you can have "legitimate ads".

I think plenty of people are happy to do illegitimate things with them too, and Facebook is as dirty as it gets, but that doesn't mean ads can't be fairly mutually exclusive from scams, fake news, and etc if someone wanted them to be.


“It’s just...” followed by a personal opinion is not a great justification

That reminds me of a quote about dentistry: "You're in a career where nobody wants to see you and you're the last place they want to come back to and it's depressing." (https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/5344jz/are-dentists-rea...)

A dentist's parents are usually proud of them.

"What are you doing at work these days, kid?"

"I'm inventing new ways to make people see advertising."

"Have you considered doing something positive with your life?"


“I’m working a super cushy job making twice as much as I could most other places, mom!”

“Proud of you!”


This is the realistic scenario, unfortunately, since the "users" in this scenario wouldn't understand the distinction between one tech job and another.

Substitute that job for one selling drugs with better, more consistent pay and... well... then it's culturally frowned upon by non-tech-savvy people.

Deliberately spreading "fake news" is the advertising equivalent.


You are fooling yourself if you think the parents' of facebook employees' aren't proud of them.

What's with the neverending facebook bashing. So much of it is propagandistic and unreasonable. It's funny how the media says something and so many people just parrot it.

Do you really believe parents are disappointed that their child works for one of the most important companies in the world? Where the average salary is double what the average dentist makes?


I mean, my parents never raised me to judge the value of my job by the size of the paycheck or the size of the company, so yes they would likely be disappointed if I worked at such a job.

Career tobacco lobbyists probably make ten times as much money as your average dentist and work for very important companies, but I don't know any parent who would be proud of their kid being a poison vendor rather than a doctor


My wife is genuinely happy to see ads. My parents are happy, that their small business can advertise, that allow them to sell product, pay their employees and support themselves.

Ads aren't root of all evil.


Yeah, but like any medical field, people come to you in extreme pain and leave without it. If you can’t find meaning in that you probably can’t find meaning in anything.

I think the exact opposite is true in dentistry.

Sometimes. My personal experience has been to present to the dentist with agonising pain and for them to fix it. Sure, I will have lost a tooth, and half my face is too numb for me to eat. But within a few days the agonising pain is gone.

One of my father's quips, "There are only two kinds of jobs: those where everyone is happy to see you, and those where everyone is mad to see you. Be the UPS delivery person, not the process server."

That was from a different time, right? By now, package delivery people also has a pretty bad reputation due to the profit pressures exerted on them by capitalists. I don't really feel happy seeing a delivery guy. If anything, I feel sorry for them.

It was a quip, not a 20 page treatise on absolute accuracy. ;)

I love my dentist. I always leave feeling super clean and well cared for. Doesn't hurt that the window is a striking view of gorgeous skyscrapers.

Isn't that true of any medical profession.. and pretty much 90% of all professions? Besides, I think dentists deserve vastly more respect.. especially the ones that check for mouth diseases and precursors to cancer.

Ethics aside, this actually sounds kind of fun to me. It's the kind of clever puzzle solving many of us love about programming - it's basically a cat and mouse game.

I worked on something like this (but at a very much lower scale, of course) and it's fun at first but then I realized that my whole job was making users experience worst and I was miserable for as long as I had that job. I swore not to work on anything advertising-related ever again.

Yea of course it's not for everyone, everyone have different concern, but I could see myself work on this if it paid well.

Perhaps reconsider.

"If it paid well" externalizes the ills it inflicts on other people. And they matter, too.


sure, thats why I said what everyone consider 'matter' are different, for me this doesn't matter that much.

...And I am lightly suggesting that maybe it should matter.

Hurting others unnecessarily is the only sin in the world. Don't ever, ever be That Guy.


This is too much.

Nobody is 'hurting anyone' - not even slightly, by ensuring that their free product also has ads.

If ads are unscrupulous, or if the company is doing shady things otherwise, then yes - bad.

But there is no moral argument against making sure that decent ads work with a free product, or when ads are part of any product wherein the social contract is to that expectation.

Facebook has ads, just like CNN and Cosmopolitan, that's normal, ethical, and within the expectations for user's experience. Again, shady things notwithstanding.

In 2018, people can pay or see ads, or a combination of both, there is no pragmatic way around this, and too many decent products depend upon ads for their existence, that's where we are until someone comes up with something better.


I disagree, and you should too. This shit is bad for us. Advertising is a tool. That tool has been abused to the point where the societally responsible choice is to take that tool away. As society is capitally captured, the remaining option is for the implementors to refuse to do it. (Not that I am under any illusion that those implementors will; we, as a profession, think the bad shit we facilitate isn't our problem. Sigh.)

You are correct in the idea that there are "decent ads"; they are not in any meaningful fraction, however, web-served ads. If you're familiar with the theory and the development of advertisement, you'll notice that what you won't see on the web in meaningful quantities are things like brand-anchoring advertisements ("brought to you by"), which I tend to think actually provide societal benefits in the way they are deployed; they provide some level of community participation on the part of the advertiser and they anchor the advertiser in the same firmament of society as the person receiving the advertisement.

What we instead have, and will continue to have and this is why advertising on the Web--as an aside, you can find oases of ethical advertising in places like podcasts, it'd be nice if the rest of the Web was like that!--is profoundly toxic and bad and should be killed, is an unending torrent of calls to action carefully designed and split-tested to claw maximal real estate inside the receiver's head. They amount to psychological assault. It's screaming at the receiver and for many people in the industrialized world the background radiation of this kind of advertisement starts when they wake up and continues until they go to sleep. And I think it's no stretch to assert that that's bad for the health of individuals exposed to them and it's pretty obviously, at Facebook scales and with Facebook morals, bad for society as a whole.

And yes, some people are fortunate enough to have the technical capability and the platform choice to escape some or even most of it. But choosing to shrug and blather about how you're happy to make this worse is a really bad look.


> Nobody is 'hurting anyone' - not even slightly, by ensuring that their free product also has ads.

This isn't a convincing argument. As an extreme example, replace ads with something that's clearly detrimental for the user: "nobody is hurting anyone by ensuring that their free product also delivers a LD50 of cyanide" is clearly bogus. While ads don't kill people, the way that they are distributed currently has many negative externalities that the user must deal with.


So 'ads are bad' but 'cyanide is bad' therefore 'ads are bad'?

I'm not down with your logic.

The vast, vast majority of ads are just fine and have no negative externalities.

Most 'food' is fine, but you can gorge yourself to death.

Cars are ok as well, even though they cause death.


> So 'ads are bad' but 'cyanide is bad' therefore 'ads are bad'?

More like "ads are bad" means that your free product with ads is also bad, just as "cyanide is bad" makes your free product laced with cyanide bad.

> The vast, vast majority of ads are just fine and have no negative externalities.

The problem is that bad ads show up basically everywhere. Sure, 99% of the ads on news websites can't infect me with malware, but there's that one that Google hasn't gotten around to banning yet that is running on every website…and even if this wasn't true, basically 100% of them track me or make my web browsing experience slower.


Making people looks at adverts is hurting them?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a uBlock user myself but come on.


In and of itself? No, certainly not. Historically, however, advertisements have been a few things that matter. They've been passive--the level of attention a print advertisement is able to demand is constrained. Or they've been supportive--your "show X is brought to you by Y!" advertisements, which historically tended to have some kind of anchoring into the community surrounding the content or service being consumed.

They're not anymore. To the first, advertisements are designed, by the platform, to for maximal attractiveness (newspapers of prior eras spent much less effort blending content and advertisement and it wasn't until about the year 2000 where loudness-compression made television advertisements blow out your speakers). To the second, these advertisements tend strongly--not always, don't but-for me, but tend strongly--to be disassociated from the community. Having some startup or multinational demand your attention for this-or-that doesn't tie back into your community, there isn't even a local aspect to the business to fall back on. It's just...voices, yelling at you for your attention and your money. That's just not good for us.

I both pay for content (I was happy to sign up for YouTube Red, for example) and aggressively use ad-blocking and the difference on my mental well-being when I don't have access to my accounts, or when somebody insists on watching television and having it scream at me about how I must buy this thing, is noticeable.

This shit is bad for us. We as technologists should not perpetuate it.


I had a job where I had to reverse engineer broker API's. A few brokers sent us warning letters since it's technically legal but brokers obviously hate it.

That was the best cat-and-mouse game. We had a revolving door of proxies that we would use to hit their endpoints so they couldn't catch us. So much fun.


In what context was this done/could you provide more details (without giving away any information that you don't care to share)? Sounds like something I would enjoy doing as well!

It was from a previous employer and I can't remember what I signed in my NDA, so I'd rather not put myself at risk. Sorry!

Although I can say that most financial institutions are not nearly as scrupulous in checking their systems as you would expect.

When I would work my way through their auth layer, I'd be sending them like 500 login requests every hour. They never contacted the account I used, so I have to assume they weren't checking for abnormalities like that.

The only time I really fucked up was when I tried to do that with a particular broker in Singapore. Singaporean companies have their shit _locked down_. I spent one hour debugging one of their endpoints, and it let off so many alarms that the CTO of their company was woken up in the middle of the night.


I respect the need to abide by an NDA, and I assumed something along those lines would be the case. Thanks for the tidbits nonetheless! The intersection between finance and tech at the highest levels like that has always intrigued me.

The ad-blocking side of the puzzle looks just as fun without the ethical issues.

The discussion on the uBlockOrigin repo trying to detect this markdown mangling is super interesting: https://github.com/uBlockOrigin/uAssets/issues/3367#issuecom...


Ethics aside is a HUGE aside. You've just internally justified serial killing.

This escalated quickly :) So if I put ads on my site, I'm literally Hitler?

More like Goebbels.

Work on anti-user stuff in the day job, and outside of work, participate (under an alternate identity/pseudonym) in the community efforts to circumvent it --- that might be one way to feel less bad about yourself, although in a weird "solving the problems you created" way.

mark zuckerberg, is that you?

Just like training AI!

[flagged]


this is laughably hyperbolic

Maybe pointedly so? "Don't let the interesting be the enemy of the good."

Nope, parabolic. (Ignoring air resistance.)

and the atomic bomb that terrorized Japan

Little over an hour for the Nazi comparison

Not wanting to turn into a Nazi apologist but to play devil's advocate for a minute, that very same research put people in space as well as creating our current communications infrastructure.
gilrain 12 days ago [flagged]

"Not wanting to turn into a Nazi apologist but"

If you want to feel truly lost, wait for the time where you're working on a product, nothing to do with the ads part, and then people higher up ask you to break parts of it because it "breaks ads". That's when you feel lucky to work in a field where you can just say "that's it, I'm done here" and cross the street to find a new job.

There's another homepage thread about Spotify doing the same thing and that's received positively. When you deliver value to billions of people who don't want to pay, ads are part of the package. And those ads have helped thousands of companies grow and provide all those other fun jobs.

The amount of hate advertising gets is just silly. It'd be great if we could push personal responsibility with even 1/10th of the effort.


I think the main reason is that Spotify provides an option to pay them and not deal with all this bullshit. Facebook doesn't.

Same way how Face ID is cheered for and Windows Hello is “creepy”

Same concept. Very similar implementation but company brand goes a hell of a long way.


Yeah but what if your salary was north of $150/yr + stock and you were in your 20's? I'd be all over that back then. Hell, I'd be all over that now!

There isn't enough money in the world for me to want to have a job who's goal is to make the world a worse place.

So what do you do now? Clean up beaches? Work with the poor? Public defender? Something similarly saintly I presume...

Are you like from CAR or Congo?

likely from implicit k.

> Imagine working on a 'feature' like this for weeks or months, and the end result is simply that people who don't want to see ads now have to see ads.

It's not so much different than patching an hole in your payment system to make sure it can't be bypassed. I sure don't want to have to pay for plenty product, yet it's perfectly valid for them to expect to get paid. Same goes for ads, it's the cost to use that product, whether you like it or not.

It's a sad state to be where people works so hard to not have to pay. I agree that's an awful usage of a developer time, but the same apply to a payment system.


I find that avoiding ads isn't avoiding wanting to pay for a product.

It's avoiding wanting to be a product.

If my attention has value, then I get to determine what that value is.

It's a sad state to be where corporations work so hard to steal people's time, attention and privacy and give them as little as possible in return.


> If my attention has value, then I get to determine what that value is.

That's exactly what you're doing by using the product. You could spend your time doing something else, or paying to skip ads instead.


Where can I pay Facebook for the not-creepy, no-ads version?

They don't offer that, but there are many other ways to communicate with people that you can choose from.

Paying is giving money in exchange for something.

Seeing ads isn't like paying, it's being subjected to a small amount of mental pain - that of not being able to do what you want because there's a commercial distracting you or blocking you from your goal.

It's actually a type of cruelty when you think about it.


I agree with your general point, but there's no paid version of Facebook that shows no ads and doesn't sell your info. (And, if there was, I'm sure it would bomb.)

Right now I'm looking for a job, and I consciously reject interview requests with adtech companies.

I don't want to work for a company products of which I would rather not use, and help others to avoid using.


The dev working on this spent 6 months doing leetcode day in and day out prepping for the interview just to get this exciting new opportunity.

There's a reason why they have to pay people $300k+. Money talks.

I remember doing this as a CSS copy-protection joke back in 2013. [1] Seems like a similarly petty thing for a company like FB to try and like many have said an extremely low-level arms race.

[1] https://github.com/nbush/headache


A huge reason a lot of people take these jobs is the insane TC (total compensation) complete with eye popping bonuses/RSUs that non FAANG can't touch considering they expect you to be grateful for their 1-4% annual increase at your typical Fortune 500.

I interviewed for a job almost 20 years ago that where I would have been tweaking banner ads to get through. I turned it down.

That sounds exactly like my current job. :(

I wouldn't mind. Sounds like a fun problem.

I interviewed at FB recently (didn't pass the in-person) and the one question I asked each interviewer was "tell me about the parts of FB I don't see" - because they have an odd hiring process where you don't figure out what team you'd be working with until after you are hired...and I had no interest in pushing Ads, but understood that wouldn't be a great pitch from my side.

Turns out there is a LOT about ads at FB. Not everything, but a lot. Particularly in the Seattle office.

I was surprised I hadn't passed the interview (thought I did well), but in retrospect I'm glad. Whether that's sour grapes on my part, the fact the news has been full of reasons to be glad not to work at FB, or that I was very concerned that anything I did would end up pushing ads is something I can't be 100% certain of.


If you don’t want to participate in the central economic function of a company you would not have been a good hire regardless of technical skill. You don’t want employees who are willing to work at a company they think is a blight on humanity.

> You don’t want employees who are willing to work at a company they think is a blight on humanity.

If that was true nobody would have any henchmen


Most henchmen don’t think their bosses are bad people, because they aspire to be their bosses, and people don’t think they’re bad themselves, even when they are.

> you don't figure out what team you'd be working with until after you are hired

That sounds like hell. I need to meet the team I'll be working with before accepting an offer. It's the only way to know if they're competent, can communicate, and are not assholes.


> I need to meet the team I'll be working with before accepting an offer. It's the only way to know if they're competent, can communicate, and are not assholes.

This is exactly how Facebook's onboarding process works (at least in engineering). You spend 3-4 weeks in "bootcamp" classes (React 101, IOS 101, etc.). After that, you spend another 3-4 weeks auditioning teams -- you sit with teams that have open headcount for a week, attend their meetings, and work with a mentor on a coding project. Once you decide which team is the best fit, you "graduate" bootcamp and join them.

It's not perfect -- if there's no open headcount on your dream team, you'll have to pick another, but it's the best onboarding process I've seen from an employee standpoint.


Is this process for new college grads or senior engineers? I can't imagine principals go through this process, do they?

All engineering hires go through bootcamp, period. The only engineering hires that don't go through team selection are domain experts hired for a specific team/role ahead of time.

> The only engineering hires that don't go through team selection are domain experts hired for a specific team/role ahead of time.

Is this a significant fraction of hires? Because I find it really odd to waste the time of a say an embedded software engineer trying to teach them React when they're pretty set on working on something else anyways…


Generally speaking, the bootcamp process has a wide variety of different "classes" to take, covering a broad range of the Facebook stack, and no one engineer is ever expected to learn everything. So in this case, an embedded engineer would likely attend primarily backend focused classes, and would then choose from backend or embedded systems teams to work with, while someone interested in mobile or web frontend technologies would each have completely different experiences from everyone else. And ultimately, your experience coming into Facebook has far less to do with which classes or technologies you learn in bootcamp than what you're personally interested in. If you're interested in mobile, but only have experience in backend applications, that's fine – that's exactly what bootcamp is there for! We want to help you learn the technology or context that you're interested in so that you can find a role or team that you'll be happy to work on.

Someone joining to work on embedded systems would probably be "pre-allocated" during the hiring/offer process ... so they go through bootcamp, but skip team selection and go straight to their team. There's also a separate hiring pipeline for AI/ML roles since those require specialized domain knowledge vs. a "generalist" software engineer.

> Is this process for new college grads or senior engineers? I can't imagine principals go through this process, do they?

Good question. It's definitely not just for new grads (I went through team selection as an IC5/senior engineer). There is a process where you can be hired directly onto a specific team, but I got the impression that it's the exception rather than the rule.

I would guess that someone joining at a super-high level like a principal engineer would be doing so to work on a specific team or technology.


I've seen a lot of senior folks go through the same process.

I'm sure they do. This is pretty standard at lots of big tech companies (Airbnb, most likely Uber, etc).

These big companies optimize to reduce false positives during hiring, and I can say with 99% confidence across engineering that they are, they can, and they are not. I've yet to meet a jerk here after almost 2 years.

I work on machine learning and natural language processing projects. We use some tools from Facebook Research. These tools are great and open source.

Every time I want to contribute to them, I feel guilty because Facebook is behind them. I also have very mixed feelings for the devs working full time on these tools at Facebook, they're smart and doing interesting stuff, but they chose to work for Facebook... Earn big money? Destroy the world? Work on fun stuff with amazing work conditions and ignore what their company is doing? What are their motives?


I feel totally the same way. Their open source projects, especially pytorch, are masterpieces. Also, there are many renounced researchers of ML(LeCun, He, Goodfellow, etc) in FB. If I had a chance, I’d like to ask them the reson why they work for FB. It might not be just for salary, but where are the motivation to work for FB?

Anyone who has written a few scrappers knows how brutally ineffective this is. Yelp tried to pull the same thing and it took me about 3 minutes to rectify my "for fun" scraper. It's also really not that difficult to write a smart scraper that you say, "Look for these things in this post. However you find them, replicate it for the others". Which is ultimately what I made my Yelp scraper do.

If there's a pattern, I will find it, and I will exploit it. <3


It actually seems pretty effective in this case. This uBlock Origin issue has been open for half a year and none of the default lists block the ads: https://github.com/uBlockOrigin/uAssets/issues/3367

Extensions like ublock having public block lists makes it even easier for Facebook to write something that breaks the filter.

Yeah and Facebook has far more resources than uBlock to fight the cat-and-mouse. So it is effective.

That works for a single iteration, but if there are multiple implementations that are randomly chosen when rendered it's a lot harder.

Pretty easy to build a randomizing span algo that you can't hardcode.


Not really. We have scraped many sites successfully that try this randomisation logic. There is always a pattern, which often can be determined via heuristics. It does make things trickier, but not impossible or especially difficult.

It feels like the point is just to raise the difficulty for script kiddies.

After all, there’s always headless browsers and OCR


Yeah, it's a bit pointless really. If you're going to put data on the open web, you should be prepared for it to be copied.

I think you can just iterate over the text nodes and see if you stumble upon every letter you're looking for in the right order, it would work for any kind of randomly added text.

100% true. Have written PLENTY of scrapers and methods like this are ultimately ineffective.

Even if you absolutely mangled the HTML/selectors/DOM/etc. I feel you could always have it process screenshots of the interfaces to rip text/figure out how to interact etc. If it's human readable, it's bot readable imo. (but in years of botting it's never came to this - I've always been able to figure out how to use the existing DOM/selectors to do my work even with anti-bot measures)


+1. At a previous employer we fed images of interest from the web into Google's OCR API to see what we could see. In addition to scene descriptions, the API will transcribe any text it detects.

With all the easy to use tools available to programmers today, it would not be terribly hard to use OCR on a screenshot to find the text of interest and derive the scraping code by searching for the OCR'd text in the markup.

If none of your extant parsers can extract the info you want from the page, send it to OCR pipeline (or, hell, Mechanical Turk) and generate a new one.


Yep yep - if the text isn't distorted I can rip it from an image within minutes using pre-built OCR libraries. If the text is distorted there's full-blown API-driven services for solving CAPTCHAs and the like.

It seems like a time span of minutes wouldn't be fast enough for on-the-fly blocking of sponsored posts?

Oh yea - I guess I had a specific use case in mind when I said that =)

What I meant is that I can hammer out some Node/Python that will grab an image w/text and put it through OCR for character extraction. "Programming" it would take me a handful of minutes.


Ahh, that makes sense!

Yep, seems like a total waste of time. The people scraping will spend the necessary time to get around this (and then distribute that knowledge to the masses) so it seems like a pointless arms race. Facebook employees could better use their time on developing actual features that bring value.

> Facebook employees could better use their time on developing actual features that bring value.

The problem here of course is that circumventing the ad blocking is the most direct way Facebook can find value.


How is this waste of time / pointless ? They do bring value for fb, they reduce the loss of ad money.

Because they are fighting the people that absolutely do not want to see advertisements whatsoever (most normal people I know do not have ad-blockers), which already makes them the least likely to be attracted by advertisements. If anything, those brands are souring their reputation anytime they are seen by those kind of people in a medium that those consumers find obnoxious.

You can make a similar argument that the RIAA/MPAA going after piracy is a waste of time. Again, focus on delivering value to actual customers.

If Facebook spent more time on making a friendly ecosystem / community I would be more open to signing back up again. Instead, it seems they are hyper-focused on advertisements at the expense of everything else.


"Delivering value to customers"? It's a website-cum-message board. There is no further value to deliver via software features; all of that work is going towards meeting the needs of advertisers.

And advertisers are asking them to show what they are doing to combat adblocking. FB isn't doing this to target customers least likely to convert, they're doing it to check a box for their ad sales team.


Newsflash: Facebook's customers are advertisers, not the honeypot victims stuck to their site.

But there’s a trade off. Fewer ads better placed means fewer people likely to block them and more people likely to actually look at them instead of skim past. It’s also likely that the people who were blocking ads are less likely to click on them and thus (for some advertisers) lower value impressions anyway.

Revenue is (simplistically) the product of impressions and value per impression. It’s not therefore immediately obvious that moves like this actually do increase revenue for them, especially over the long term since one potential side effect of doing this is giving more ammunition to the ‘delete Facebook’ crowd.


> which already makes them the least likely to be attracted by advertisements. If anything, those brands are souring their reputation anytime they are seen by those kind of people in a medium that those consumers find obnoxious.

Facebook thinks otherwise. Between you and them, I suspect they are more likely to have some evidence or trials to support their position.


Value doesn't keep the lights on.

Uh. Yes it does?

You can't make money off something without any value to people. People have to "want" the thing


They could render the whole thing in canvas for example

So you'd block all canvas elements if ads are always a <canvas>.

If they turn all their posts into <canvas> then it'd kill any accessibility features and the ability to copy-paste text and such so I doubt they'd go that far.

Even then, a scraper could run OCR on the canvas image to get the text out of it.


I don't think these html pieces is very accessibility-tool friendly..

And then you’d switch to an img tag

Ad blockers are not as powerful as a scrapper, they basically a glorified CSS selector engine. This may be easy to bypass for a dedicated extension targeting Facebook, such as Social Fixer, but for a regular ad blocker it may be harder.

Hey there. Regarding the semi-automatic “look for these things in the post, and however you find them replicate for others”. I’m new to scrappers, do you have a good resource you could link on this? Thanks!

This would make an interesting blog post, if you have time to write up the design.

> it took me about 3 minutes to rectify my "for fun" scraper.

Did you mean to say "rectify" as in "fix/adjust"? It sounds like you might have meant "reify" – as in, "create" – but I don't know whether you had the scrapper before that.


This example is likely not specifically targeting ad blockers, but ad scrapers for transparency: https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-blocks-ad-transp...

> Our tool recognized ads by searching for that word. Last year, Facebook added invisible letters to the HTML code of the site. So, to a computer, the word registered as “SpSonSsoSredS.”

That article also links to this tweet in that paragraph.


> We have collected more than 100,000 political ads in this way. But Facebook’s latest update blocks tools like ours from clicking on the “Why Am I Seeing This” menu.

> The company added code that prevents clicks generated by computers — including browser extensions — on just that one button. Web browsers make a distinction between a click generated by the computer and one generated by your mouse. Clicks from your mouse are marked “isTrusted“ and those generated by computer code are not.


You can patch the browser to make isTrusted configurable, or to set it unconditionally true.

In my opinion extensions should be able to synthesize clicks on behalf of the user where isTrusted=true from the perspective of web content.

Ah, this explains why so many of my GreaseMonkey attempts didn't work!

That has to destroy accessibility. I mean, a human using a screen reader is nearly equivalent to a scraper, so the whole thing seems problematic.

Isn't a screen reader generally a third party program? Software like a browser has no idea if the click event comes from a local mouse or other software. Telling the difference between what type of software specifically, like RDP/VNC/TeamViewer, AutoIT/autoclicker, and accessibility software is even more improbable.

I wonder at which point will we just stream pages as interactive video content with a text optimized codec. Most pages on the internet are bloated to the point where it might just make sense. (I am not advocating, I am predicting)

At a previous job in the not-too-distant past, we needed to support IE7 for contractual reasons. I'd unironically floated the idea of launching a VM on the server running Firefox, and starting a VNC session, streamed over frames of a GIF. Clicks and keypresses would be transmitted with AJAX calls.

In a later project, we played with the idea of using an asm.js-compiled Webkit to render SVG (with embedded HTML) into a canvas due to mixed browser support.

Long story short, it's not inconceivable.


Write once, run everywhere promise of the web delivered like never before.

Facebook should try to adapt screamer-prank tech[0] for ads. Even if an ad missed your attention, you'd still have to pay 1 laundry bill and 1 bill for stuttering-aid couching.

Jokes aside, even with rendering to canvas, ad can be blocked with image recognition. Long time ago I used Sikuli Script for UI testing automation, Sikuli recognized parts of screen and worked very fast; combine it with an app like CinemaDrape and voila.

[0] (loud noises warning) https://youtu.be/469zNXTCHdk?t=10


Sounds a bit like Apache Guacamole, which is sometimes used for presenting old software to users via a web setup.

There was a Chinese mobile browser that essentially did this if I recall. And didn't Amazon have something like this for one of their earlier Kindles?

I worked on a project a few years ago to render screenshots to imagemaps, then used server side imagemap processing to click.

Made modern websites work in Netscape 2 :)


Doesn't citrix solve this problem?

This is pretty crazy. I love it.

If you stream movies from sites like 123movies, they play a similar obfuscation game but are moving towards your hypothetical.

While many players, despite deeply nested html, still point directly to where the content is hosted (ex, a file on openload.co), an increasing number take your mentioned approach and load the content as a blob so folks won't bypass their ads.


IIRC you can directly download a blob from the blob internals page; I think you can also see them somewhere in the developer console, and I've got a bookmarklet that allows feeding a blob URI into it for download.

Then we would finally have implemented the interactive TV envisioned in old futurism. And the web would be dead.

That’s what Flash was all about back in the day, more or less.

Deep learning is already able to find the ads even within video content, so the cat-and-mouse game is still on :)

Of course locking down the computer helps.


At first I thought that this might be another good indication that having "Facebook" on your resume isn't the golden egg it once was.

Then I realize it's even better than before because it demonstrates for a potential employer that you'll push whatever buttons you're asked to in exchange for money, regardless of whether it's good for the user, the internet, or society as a whole.


It's a giant company with many roles. I'd be more worried about people hiring based on such strange judgements of character.

I'd be more worried about people hiring based on such strange judgements of character.

I wouldn't. Over the decades I've seen many people hire, and later regret hiring, people who demonstrated poor character.

In a more public sense, remember the Bush-Clinton election where the full version of the fabled "It's the economy, stupid" slogan was "Character doesn't matter; it's the economy, stupid." And we see what happened when someone of poor character got power and an intern.


The post is about judging people's character simply by where they work and in the most ungracious terms. Doing that actually is poor character.

You're always cheerleading for the advertising industry, so I don't think anyone will be changing your mind soon.

That being said, it should be obvious even to you that the place where one invests one third of their day for years on end defines a large part of who that person is and how they behave during the other 2/3rds of the day.

I remember reading an article a few years ago where several senior ex-Facebook employees were horrified at what they did and were trying to protect their kids from the monster of online advertising. Funny how that becomes clearer once one's income doesn't depend on advertising any more.


There's nothing inherently wrong with advertising, and offering ads in exchange for free services is perfectly fair. As far as Facebook's underhanded practices, I'm definitely against them but I'm sure you realize there is nuance when talking about such a big organization and the life choices of everyone who works there.

As far as "cheerleading for the ad industry", I also built an adblocker, spent 6 figures to test alternative payments, am part of every initiative to make ads better, and have spoken with senators to push for regulation. But you wouldn't know that with the quick character judgement that you seemed to make, which is ironically the actual subject of this thread.


Actually there is something inherently wrong with advertising: it manipulates people into buying things by making them feel ugly, uncool, alone or using completely irrelevant information instead of facts. Like the award-winning, stupid, fat santa commercials for a certain sugary drink.

It's a surprise to read that you want to regulate advertising, given your continous criticism of the GDPR and support of data collection in several comments.

What exactly do you understand by better ads and what kind of regulation do you support? Are we talking about yet another one of those "industry successfully regulates itself" stories?


Well you could choose to work at a company that doesn’t treat human beings like money machines?

Or you could choose to not lie to yourself about said humans as money machines ideals with classic tropes like “there’s a lot of different teams” or “I haven’t seen that kind of thing at my local office”?

Throwing out a couple options here that don’t require intense mental gymnastics


Distilling everything into such simplistic and disingenuous examples like "humans as money machines" is never productive, and a rather poor way to argue against thinking more intensively about a subject.

Facebook provides value for billions of people as evidenced by their usage. They don't pay so ads are a trade-off. There's nothing inherently wrong with that unless you have a problem with how business works. And yes, a company that is one of the 10 most valuable in the world has a wide range of roles and there are infinite reasons why someone would work for them.


Red herrings are also a poor way to argue the contrary ;)

Ok. You previously stated [1] that you "work in finance" and then described it in the same comment as "People hate finance because at the core it's sales and you make your keep by being predatory since everyone does it."

Perhaps you should have chosen not to work in finance then? Doesn't that industry quite literally "treat human beings like money machines"? Does this judgement not apply to you too?

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18997658


Yes, I am aware. That's why I quit finance, taught myself software engineering, and moved to northern Europe. Combing through my post history is a pathetic attempt at saving damage to your precious ego

I think you lost the topic here. The OP was talking about judging people based on just having Facebook on their resume. Likewise, under that rule, you too would be judged for having worked in finance. Your history is therefore relevant, and by your arguments I'm assuming you think it's fair to judge that way?

Good for you for changing careers but that doesn't make you better than anyone else nor is it applicable to any other person's life. Anyway, I'm not sure what ego has to do with anything but I'll take that as a sign that there are no better arguments forthcoming.


I'm okay with a prospective employer judging my finance past similarly to a past that includes Facebook. Ego has everything to do with failed ad hominem attacks, my friend

Then we disagree on making snap judgements of character based on just work history. I don't understand how that is ever a good thing.

However that comment wasn't an "ad hominem attack", but I suspect we disagree on the definition of that as well.


Perhaps FB is the only company that extended an offer with reasonable pay, or perhaps the only company willing to sponsor a Visa.

The list of possible extenuating circumstances extends to infinity when you think about it more deliberately. If you don’t, you’ve successfully bucketed someone based on quick, irrational judgment. That is poor behavior.


Would you apply the same hiring filters to military vets? Police officers? Petrolium Engineers?

> Then I realize it's even better than before because it demonstrates for a potential employer that you'll push whatever buttons you're asked to in exchange for money...

Well you don't know why the person left the company...maybe they were dissatisfied with its direction/practices.


This is why I genuinely believe STEM majors should be required to take more liberal arts (e.g. ethics) classes as a requirement to graduate.

Sure, we could all stand to be more well rounded. Liberal Arts majors should be required to take more science courses so they don't fall for dumb stuff like climate change denial or anti-vax nonsense.

I can't seem to find any data which suggests that Liberal Arts majors are significantly more likely to fall for climate change denial or the anti-vax movement. I find that most studies correlate political leaning with these beliefs, not area of study. Given that the Liberal Arts are overwhelmingly liberal in the US, I'd say your claim is probably wrong.

If anything, a Liberal Arts educations ought to provide students a higher degree of skepticism towards all expressions of ideology, and seek to find the truth through critical research. Obviously, that's the ideal, note necessarily the reality in all cases, but it seems your notion of Liberal Arts is more akin to "hippy-dippy" nonsense, not critical study.


>Liberal Arts majors should be required to take more science courses

They are, that's the point of a liberal arts education:

https://college.harvard.edu/what-liberal-arts-education

>In our liberal arts program, students are broadly educated in the social sciences, the natural sciences and the humanities, as well as trained in a particular academic field of specialization called a concentration.

https://admission.princeton.edu/academics/what-does-liberal-...

>By exploring issues, ideas and methods across the humanities and the arts, and the natural and social sciences

https://www.aacu.org/leap/what-is-a-liberal-education

>It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society)


Yes, I fully agree. The liberal arts are of utmost importantce to our culture and society as a whole. I cringe everytime I hear people say that access to these studies should be limited because they aren’t economicly viable.

We don’t just need resources to live, we also need a reason.


I agree, philosophy of science/STS. And Paul Conte once told my father he believed programmers should have a base in cognitive psychology.

I enjoyed my liberal arts electives far more than any engineering, math or other field-related course.

Oh well.


A semester of philosophy or a few weeks on HN should teach you that you can weasel out of anything by playing epistemological games or arguing semantics.

We do though? I had to take two GE philosophy courses and an engineering ethics course to get my degree.
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