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It’s time to outlaw stalking-based business models. If you just break up Facebook but don’t outlaw the underlying scummy business model something else will just take its place.



Let's not forgot social media platforms did organize an Egyptian revolt. When there have been natural disasters or terrorist attacks, Facebook has sent notifications to people's friends telling them they are ok. Also, tons of small brands now can exist due to Facebook and Instagram, and these companies can now do so from any location in the country or world.

Facebook is a very metrics driven company, and privacy has been a remote concern for the company. I think they have dug their own grave if they even want to venture into finance or healthcare like Apple is doing. I would not trust Facebook with my health records or bank account. But, Instagram is great for finding vacation ideas and spotting new products or trends. Twitter IMO now often is a much better source of information than the NYTimes. Also, let's not forgot the NYTimes has its own axe to grind here.


Yes, and once in a while kidnappers might even let you have a beer or walk around the yard. But soon enough it’s back into the basement you go.

The point isn’t that Facebook is all bad, just that it’s mostly bad. And all of those things you mentioned can, and do, exist without Facebook. There was a world before Facebook, there will be a world after Facebook.


We should also not forget the genocide in Myanmar which has been enabled by and attributed to a lack of moderation and the prevalence of hateful fake news on facebook.


It's the advertising market that drives all of this.

As you rightly point out, history is proof that the ad dollars don't care what the platform or who the messenger is, as long as they are easy to use and effectiveness can be measured.


And it will keep driving all of this because aside from enthusiasts and privacy focused people, nobody is willing to pay for Internet services such as FB, WhatsApp or IG. Few people are willing to pay for news.

How many subscriptions am I supposed to have anyways if my go-to information consumption mode is to cross check several websites?

I don't want to be confined to NYT, Der Spiegel, Wired or WSJ. I want all of them whenever I please. The Internet made this possible and now we are on the road to taking this away again.

At the very root of all of this is the Internet's financial reliance on advertisements. Advertisement based business models need to die but at the same time we cannot lose the free, accessible Internet as it used to be.


and effectiveness can be measured

I don't think this is a prerequisite at all. Isn't most marketing focused on the persuasiveness of the seller, instead of the effectiveness of the product?


Regardless of what metric is used, ad platforms get more money by proving they're better at said metric, so measurement is required.


I don't think it's possible to outlaw what Facebook does without unforeseen consequences. Facebook is fast-food for the mind. You know it's bad for you, you know you shouldn't do it, you know there are healthier alternatives, the fact that corporations profit off of making people fat and sick is outrageous, but you can't very well outlaw the concept of beef in a bun.


People aren't mad because Facebook runs a social network or presents users with a newsfeed or provides a messaging service or stores users photos. Lots of companies do those things without complaint. People are mad at Facebook because the company constantly lies about privacy issues, makes one agreement with its users about their privacy and then does something else, and just generally treats the privacy of its users with complete contempt.


People aren't mad because MacDonalds runs a chain of restaurants or presents consumers with food or provides a easy way to get a meal. Lots of companies do those things without complaint. People are mad at McDonalds because the company constantly lies about health issues, makes one statement about the origins of their food when really it comes from somewhere else, and just generally treats the concerns of its consumers with complete contempt.


have never been more on board with breaking up McDonald's. ;)


> but you can't very well outlaw the concept of beef in a bun

Well you can. Lots of things have been successfully restricted in the past, in lots of places. It doesn't have to give rise to the mob, illegal smuggling or iniquitous burger dens that so often is the American experience of outlawing things.

Or you can just tax it until lettuce becomes appealing.


> I don't think it's possible to outlaw what Facebook does without unforeseen consequences.

You don't have to outlaw it, just tax revenue from the undesirable behaviors to dis-incentivize them. In Facebook's case (and also that of much of the web), most of what people object to is the practices that support personal profile-targeted ads. So tax those until page context-targeted ads become attractive.


"You don't have to outlaw it, just tax revenue from the undesirable behaviors to dis-incentivize them."

I think a 1 cent per impression ad tax would have a very positive impact on a lot of the internet. It doesn't destroy the advertising industry entirely, because there are still plenty of ads profitable at that point. A lot of the bullshit the advertising industry is subjecting us to isn't about those ads, where the signal is bright and clear and easy to monetize; it's about chasing the long tail and extracting every last ounce of data to make that stuff profitable, heedless of the societal damage it can cause.


Of course, you'd have everyone gaming what constitutes an "impression". Everyone might redesign into single-page apps to keep the same ad impression visible for a longer time, for one example.

And the personal tracking side would still exist, it would just happen before showing the impression, to identify you and calculate whether the 1 cent is worth it for you.


"And the personal tracking side would still exist, it would just happen before showing the impression, to identify you and calculate whether the 1 cent is worth it for you."

I've encountered this argument before on HN now, and the problem is, you're accounting for all this tracking as being free. It isn't. It's actually very expensive. The tracking has to work in a world where impressions are much more expensive, and consequently, the demand for ads has shrunk along with its total market.

The entire purpose of this tax is put the industry in a new set point where it can't afford all this tracking. It can only afford very high-return things, which we can't really stop anyhow. It can't afford to hoover up every email you've ever written and subject it to high-quality ML learning run by a team of 25 PhDs with hundreds of support staff behind them with effectively unlimited hardware budgets to squeeze an additional 3 lifetime cents from everybody in the world in a world where ads have a cost floor of 1 cent rather than their current .000001 cents (or however many zeros it may have, it's enough).

(Those numbers may seem weird to you, because we are not good at working at large scales of factors of magnitude. But 3 cents over the liftime of seven billion people on Earth is 210 million dollars. This is the fundamental reason why the ad industry is so dangerous; it is not only worth it, but trivially worth it, to spend 100 million dollars to build a system for invading your privacy if it will net them just a few more pennies. We need to strike at that value calculation, not fritter around the edges.)


People are waking up to the importance of privacy. If FB had competing social networks, consumer choice would matter. As it is, we have false choices like FB vs. IG.


Twitter?


Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat

Those are by far the dominant social networks in the US. They all compete in terms of fighting for limited user time. WhatsApp is kinda sorta in that group, however it's not particularly popular in the US. Tumblr used to be, it might as well be dead now, it's going the way of MySpace (sold off a few times, passed around, until it's hardly valuable at all).

Snapchat competes primarily with Facebook and Instagram. At the edges there's some competition with sites like YouTube, Reddit, Imgur (and other image sharing networks).

Instagram competes with core Facebook, which is of course why they ate them. Also with Snapchat. To a lesser extent YouTube, Pinterest and misc image sites.

YouTube competes with Facebook and their goal to build a much larger user video platform. To a lesser extent they compete with Snapchat and Instagram, particularly on very short form user video.

Reddit competes with Twitter and some of the smaller niche social networks like Imgur. There's some limited competition between Reddit, Instagram and Pinterest.

LinkedIn competes with Facebook. Microsoft scored a nice protected fiefdom in LinkedIn. It suffers no serious competitive threat other than incompetence.

When you examine the competitive landscape, it's very clear that Facebook has no direct competitor to their core platform. And further, Instagram has far overwhelmed its competition. Facebook core is Facebook's Google search, Instagram is Facebook's YouTube, all are monopolies at what they do. The scope of Facebook core + Instagram + WhatsApp is breathtaking, it must be something like 2.6 to 3 billion monthly actives now when you include everyone across all three major platforms.

The most interesting social network among the group, is Pinterest. If they don't screw things up, they'll have a far better business than Twitter over time. It's a dramatically more mainstream product with direct, obvious, superior monetization potential. None of the other social networks can compete well with what they do (not without contorting themselves into a pretzel and risking their existing userbase and business).


>Tumblr used to be, it might as well be dead now, it's going the way of MySpace (sold off a few times, passed around, until it's hardly valuable at all).

That will turn around quick if Pornhub actually succeeds in buying it.


I have never heard anyone say that Pinterest is the most interesting ANYTHING before.

What do you consider to be their obvious superior monetization potential? And is their anything else about Pinterest that makes you find it so interesting?


Doesn't solve the same problem.


I recently launched Cardbox, an app that reimagines your address book as your definitive social network. No timeline, no posts, no ads, no data monetization; just contacts.

As an independent place to stay connected, it enables people to leave social media without losing their social network (an important distinction). It also makes it easier to discover and try out new apps (just link them to your card).

Check it out maybe :) https://cardbox.app/


> It’s time to outlaw stalking-based business models.

Data generated by users implicitly or explicitly should be protected in the same way other highly personal data is protected. I'm talking specifically about health data and video rental records and (in some states) library records.


It is in the EU. The US just needs to adopt something similar enough to GDPR to have teeth.


Most ppl in the world don't have credit cards to pay for a service online.


Advertising doesn't require surveillance.


Why are they doing it then, if its not required.


Because they are trying to make as much money as possible. It only has to be 1% more effective and it's a no-brainer to turn it on.


Because targeting is very profitable.


Sure, but you don't have to watch the user to do that. Target indirectly via the content of the page. If I search for "Harley Davidson", it makes a lot of sense to show motorcycle ads. If I'm reading an article about curing cancer with apricot kernels, then show me ads for oncology centers or maybe for woo enhancer.


But it's more profitable to store multiple user interests & behaviors in a database to be exploited in any number of ways, including selling. The aggregation even lets you infer other valuable information about the user, such as the scandal with Target inferring pregnancies several years ago.


Sure, it's generating an incredible amount of profit for a few companies in California.


so effective advertising does require surveillance? Is there way to to know if companies like FB would be sustainable without surveillance or would they simply die out ?

in other words, would banning surveillance business kill FB, Google ect? Would we still want that law if that was the case?


newspapers, have done just fine without it for several hundred years. Radio and TV likewise can't do it.

Duck Duck Go doesn't use it and they do okay. There is a lot more money in surveillance based advertising, but it isn't the only way.


> Duck Duck Go doesn't use it and they do okay.

Right. My point was FB/Google would cease to exist in their current form employing hundreds of thousands of ppl and responsible for US tech domination.

Would we as a society ok with losing all that and turning FB into a 100 ppl company that no one cares about.


It hasn't been technologically possible until recently, and now that it is, businesses are strongly incentivized to use it, in order to keep up with the growth of competitors that do used tracked advertising.

Privacy-focused mass-market products like DDG and Firefox will very rarely be able to keep up with the giants that prioritize profit. As long as users disregard their privacy, there'll be businesses ready to entice them with customized features, and of course advertisers will reward that too. That's why regulation is the only real way out (GDPR, etc.).


This isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. Tracking-based advertising isn't used out of necessity any more often than negotiating a $200k TC increase is. It's about maximizing profit, not simply about sustained survival.


I think "surveillance capitalism" has a better ring to it. Maybe "corporate surveillance" if we want to be less ideological.


I think "surveillance capitalism" better reflects the underlying incentives, and is less likely to be confused with some other nefarious phenomena, such as surveillance of employees, or surveillance of other corporations by their competitors.




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