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Why Facebook still seems to spy on you (wsj.com)
64 points by bryanrasmussen 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

It still seems to spy on you because Facebook and its employees are in the business of spying on you and everyone else.

If you still use fb, messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp, you accept that.

If you work there, you don’t believe privacy is more important than the money you make. You could work elsewhere, but you choose to spy instead.

The privacy clusterf*ck combined with politically-motivated censorship is really starting to steer the conversation towards regulation.

Given how profoundly big tech has failed to act responsibly with the power it has amassed, I think it's both inevitable and a good idea.

And I say that as a libertarian who works in software.

I'll take the US gov's track record wrt protecting speech vs what we're seeing with the tech industry right now.

Having said all of that, I wonder why FB gets piled on here vs Google. Google is just as bad, if not worse, and they have control of both a widely deployed browser and an operating system.

Google tends to build tools that make you more productive on the open web, while Facebook tends to build timesinks that make you less productive in a walled garden. The value proposition is different between them, and so we give Google more slack because it's more valuable to our lives.

And at least Google doesn't tend to reset our privacy settings to "share freaking everything" every year or so like Facebook did. On that, they're actually less scummy than my bank is with data sharing.

No doubt that social media is often a waste of time. However Facebook's products are also great tools for communication. And Google's YouTube is likely the largest time sink on the net.

But that doesn't really matter. Even if Google made only the most innocent products known to exist, how can that justify that they abuse those products and build huge databases of private data to be shared with their advertisers?

> And at least Google doesn't tend to reset our privacy settings to "share freaking everything" every year or so like Facebook did.

Can you elaborate on this? Do you have at least one example of Facebook undoing a user's privacy settings?

"Since 2009, Facebook has been under investigation by federal authorities and American senators in the wake of a series of incidents involving the sudden change of users' privacy settings, most notably Facebook Beacon, which shut down that same year."


Beacon was a clusterf*ck, no discussion. Even the commercial partners were surprised by the lack of consent from the affected users.

However this was a feature that they launched 12 years ago. Since then Facebook have added more and more granular privacy controls and they have made their API and Ads product increasingly more data restricted in the past 5-6 years.

I don't believe there has ever been a case, where they have reset a privacy setting that was specifically set by the user.

So if a user changes all the settings to say "only ever share with my friends", and then Facebook creates a new service and sets it to "share with all companies", that's not a change of a privacy setting because the setting didn't exist before? Seriously?

It's a pattern of behavior on the part of Facebook to not act in the public interest until faced with overwhelming legal or public opinion issues. At least Google is smart enough to see which way the wind is blowing. But sure, continue to support a company that was complicit in the Rohingya genocide though willful ignorance to problems in general. I'm not a Stallmanite but there has to be a point where enough is enough.

This is not to take away from the good engineers who worked on React or HHVM. Just consider working for a less morally bankrupt company, please.

I imagine what will happen if/when FB in their cancerous ecosystem decide to add/provide email services. I am afraid that young people will use this as one-stop-shop and guarantee that they will never leave this spider web.

Imagine if on top of everything they now collect they can also see every email content (like Gmail, Hotmail, end others).

Facebook did offer @facebook.com email addresses starting end of 2010 and had them available until I believe 2014.


Google's data collection seems much more "transactional" to me. Most of what I share with Google seems to give me something in return, and I don't see obvious "leakage" of this information. Beyond whether or not my contacts have a gmail account or not, I know exactly nothing about what my contacts do with Google, or if they use it at all. I also don't see third party companies with information about me from Google. edit: I will say, I started to get skeeved out by Google when they were pushing Google+ hard, because they started having the same kinds of problems: information about contacts was popping up in places it didn't belong. It was never as bad as FB, but I'm still glad that failed.

In contrast, FB seems to just want everything, and they're much more subtle about how they get it. But worse than that, I constantly see information about friends and myself from FB in places that it didn't seemed like it belonged. Right from the very, very beginning: remember when websites would show you people that "liked" them, and your friends would be at the top? That kind of shit just screams "leakiness" and it's why even since 2005 or so I gave as little information to FB as possible.

FB's problem is that their business model requires them to exploit some users information to generate content for other users. They've been getting more and more aggressive about this over time. It used to just be your friends content, and people seemed OK with that. But as they pushed the limits further and further, it's getting too fucking weird and people don't like it.

Google isn't like this. Google shows me ads when I search for stuff about what I'm searching for. They show me ads in maps when I'm looking for places. That doesn't bother me. The FB equivalent would be telling me about my friends who also searched for this, or also went to this place (hell, FB does this, a perfect example of what I was saying above). If Google starts doing that kind of shit, that will be the end of Google for me.

Googles data collection certainly is NOT transactional at all.

They track you across the entire internet on unrelated websites via Google Analytics, their ad network, reCaptcha, ...

They might not directly sell this data directly to third parties (for now), but they sell it in the form of more targeted ads thanks to a better profile.

They certainly have a lot of data on you that you never intentionally gave them.

That may be, but the main point I was making is that information doesn't seem to appear in places it doesn't belong. Information that I know FB has pops up everywhere.

Note that I'm not trying to say that the information FB or Google collects is OK or not. Only that I think this is why the general public is pissed off at FB and not (as much) Google.

Plus, this is the company that stores tries to store your 24/7 location history

> Having said all of that, I wonder why FB gets piled on here vs Google.

Because this is not about what's actually being done but about likability of the founder(s).

The regulatory restrictions conundrum is tricky, because where the military industrial complex/deep state/5 eyes etc ends and Google/Amazon/FB/Insta/Whatsapp/ Netflix begins is very unclear. Any sort of political regulation could well just be a fig leaf over this as the snooping tech gets ever more sophisticated...

As long as FB and the other big players serve ANY information to ANY government on this planet there will NEVER be a regulatory intervention. With the current setup the price of the State is that they commonly violate the privacy that the users have volunteered by using such servicss.

The moment FB stops collecting it will be the moment that FB stops handing in our info to govs. Govs are somehow in this loop.

I suspect we are on the cusp of a next generation of snooping social networks, and that FB will be sunsetted to make way for more sophisticated signals intelligence gathering platforms.


yeah I just took the article's title but the conclusion pretty much is they continue to spy on you.

I think the primary suspect today is app analytics platforms, especially the free ones like Facebook's and Google's. Just looking at how e.g. Intercom pulls additional data about users that your app didn't provide (full name, photo, Twitter or LinkedIn profiles etc), you realize that these 3rd party app services know more about you than you'd like them to. In fact Intercom, unlike others, inadvertently exposes this spooky fact that they are a part of the giant spying octopus with N number of independent brains.

So the explanation of what happened with the pregnancy app in the article might lie in 3rd party frameworks linked to the app. It might be that the app uses Facebook for its analytics but it's not even necessary: it could be Mixpanel, Amplitude, Segment, Fabric, Intercom, any or all of them. The spooky part here is that the legal implications of what 3rd party app services can do with data are not very clear (to me at least), and on top of that, tracing the sources of information seems to be getting more and more difficult these days. Facebook's answers to the author might be kind of honest: the people you talk to may not know where the information is coming from.

N.B. use outline.com if you can't see the linked article.

The advertising and PR industry is driving this.

Whether it's Facebook or another company, it doesn't matter. You can kill Facebook, or Twitter or whatever, it won't matter because the ad market is paying to get into your head and they will always figure out how to get there.

Regulate the ad industry, not tech companies.

Facebook and Google are the ad industry.

Their entire business is based on gathering personal information and using it to sell ads. That’s why they must be regulated.

Nobody is talking about regulating ‘tech’ companies for any other reason.

They have certainly absorbed and consolidated a significant portion of the ad market, however they aren't the ad industry.

The "ad industry" exists no matter who is running the ads and has persistent aims and goals that are independent of whatever the vogue ad platform of the day is. Newspapers were the beginning of "influence at scale" for advertisers, then TV completely obliterated that, when internet based attention eclipsed TV, the internet became the "new" platform.

The platform will change again, and the advertising industry will absorb whatever is next and turn it into a cesspool.

This is faulty reasoning. Google and Facebook weren’t absorbed by the Ad industry. They absorbed large parts of the ad industry. They are the ones who did all of the innovation in microtargeting and harvesting of personal information. Not some amorphous external ‘ad industry’.

Advertising is their primary business, and neither of them have any other significant business. Almost everything they do is designed to drive advertising. They are advertising companies plain and simple.

The Ad industry turned Google and Facebook into ad companies, they didn't start with any intention of becoming ad companies. The Ad industry just shifted where it points it's dollars; those dollars weren't taken out of the ad industry.

Google and Facebook wouldn't exist without the ad industry but the ad industry would exist just fine without them. That's how you know if you're sucked into it or not.

Think about it this way, corporations, governments, non-profits etc... all use the ad industry. They hire people who have studied social manipulation to create "content" with the singular purpose of inducing you to take an action you would not have otherwise taken. They have to put that content in front of people somehow, so they go where the people are and then get in front of them there.

If it so happens that a company can attract a lot of people, then that company becomes a target of all the groups who want to get their manipulators in front of those people. Once there is a big enough demand ($$) for that, then the company starts to build processes and systems to make that easy - like adwords. If that's the easiest way to make money, then the company will optimize around that process, and all other things fall to the wayside.

So the causal path is actually perfectly sound reasoning. Market demand in the form of the ad industry, turned the technology companies into ad companies. Pretty simple really.

There are tons of tech companies that don't do this because it's not the right business model, Twilio is one of the best examples. So they never turn into ad companies.

The Ad industry did no such thing. Nobody forced google to create AdWords. That was all them. They designed the advertising product themselves. They chose to become an advertising business.

You provide the point yourself by saying that google and Facebook wouldn’t exist without the ad industry. I.e. they exist because they are advertising companies.

There is no reason a search engine cannot exist without being part of an advertising company. The same is true for a social network.

We're talking past each other so I'm going to abandon this thread, sorry.

You just dishonestly edited your previous responses up the thread before declaring this, to make me look like I was missing your point.

Thae second half of you previous reply would have helped to clarify what you meant. Had it been there when I replied. But it wasn’t. You added three paragraphs after seeing my response.

I still wouldn’t have agreed, but we could have left it there as two different viewpoints.

As it was, you edited your previous reply to make it look as though we were taking past each other.

I question your integrity and I’m glad I don’t have anything to do with your company.

I don't recall editing anything.

I'm not trying to make anyone look poorly, I'm simply stating that I'm not being clear with my point and I didn't have the time or interest in trying to clarify it. No malice.

All the best.

> Regulate the ad industry, not tech companies.

Or better yet: Regulate them both.

Last paragraph explained what happened:

“And Facebook, upon looking into the ad, said I was targeted because I was part of a look-alike audience that resembles customers, uploaded by the advertiser, who apparently are in need of maternity-wear”

Facebook still seems to spy on you because they do.

Why was this article necessary?

Wait, when does facebook stopped spying on users?

Seems to is not the right choice of words, I feel

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