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Ask HN: Invited by Facebook for privacy roundtable. What questions should I ask?
261 points by AdriaanvRossum on July 9, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 170 comments
This Thursday I'm invited to a privacy roundtable with Facebook Legal and Privacy Policy teams in Amsterdam. The round table will be with other entrepreneurs and experts in the privacy field. I'm invited because I'm the founder of Simple Analytics - a privacy friendly analytics SaaS business [1] - and critical about Facebook on Twitter [2].

Some people advised me not to go there because it would only do harm to my name and brand, but I think I should. The Facebook teams are going to give a presentation with some new plans where they want feedback on. For internal push back they need critical people from outside Facebook, which I'm happy to contribute for.

To make it more interesting for the outside world I'm going to ask a few questions for Facebook in general (privacy wise). And that's where I need some help. What questions do you want answers for from Facebook?

Facebook agreed I could use the answers outside of the meeting (with the exception of sharing from non-Facebook attendances).

[1] https://simpleanalytics.com

[2] https://twitter.com/adriaanvrossum

Well, The big one would be nice: Facebook makes her money from harvesting and selling privacy sensitive data, or at least that is the perception shared by nation states, the EU and the wider audience. For any claim Facebook makes about respecting privacy to have at least face validity she need to show how she is going to make money without violating her users privacy. So how is Facebook going to make money if they need to respect users privacy?

Somewhat more constructive: Facebook seems to have an unhealthy appetite to collect _all_ user data including privacy sensitive information. But lets be fair: She is definitely not the only company on the quest for the Big Data insights, that seem to always be at least one data point away. Does Facebook have information on which data points they really need to make a commercial viable user profile? What data points are privacy sensitive? Is Facebook looking into alternatives for those privacy sensitive data points? If not: can Facebook enumerate those and ask their users for explicit consent to collect those points and ask for explicit consent in the future for any new data points?

Good luck this afternoon. I hope you get some insights.

It is not true that Facebook makes its money by selling private data, as you can verify by reading its publicly available earnings reports. It makes its money by selling ads, which it uses private data to target — a completely different thing.

In zuckerbergs testimony to congress he references "the data brokers" or third parties involved all of the time.

I was really careful enough in my wording: Facebook sells privacy sensitive data as in very, very specific target groups for among other things ad targeting for their customers to use. I did not refer to the selling of private data.

I genuinely don’t understand the distinction you’re making.

Facebook does not make its money from “selling data” at all, whether “private data” or “privacy-sensitive data”.

Not the OP, but I am guessing they are trying to say that the distinction between "you pay facebook and they give you a database full of private data" and "you pay facebook and they give you API access to a database of private data and allow you to query it in myriad ways leading to you creating your own database of highly accurate private data" is not as important a distinction as Facebook would have you believe. Or something along those lines.

But Facebook doesn’t let advertisers query their database of private data. I agree that if they did, it would not be very different from selling data, but they don’t.

But.. they do, though. You can (and people do) make a very targeted ad, then query what users matched with it, and so on until you've sufficient data for your purposes. Plus you can use their public APIs to then match their ad data with the users public information. Facebook knows this, and does not prevent it (by hiding user identifiers for instance) because it's part of their strategy.

Ah now this is sneaky. Is this widespread? Any sources?

Here's a guy targeting his roommate[0]. Previous discussion[1].

[0] https://ghostinfluence.com/the-ultimate-retaliation-pranking...

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8330931

By making a Custom Audience and then selectively uploading? I think you have to agree to not do this.

The audience size tricks like uploading an audience, then adding one to it and reuploading won’t work. There’s a cardinality fudging thing.

Dear umanwizard,

Genuinely not understanding something is fine. Already claiming someone was intellectually dishonest because you misread or misunderstood not so much.

The ads business of Facebook is based on the very specific data Facebook can provide their advertisers for very specific target audiences based on private information they gathered through their platform. Like ads for people who die their hair, have an affliction for cheese burgers, are right wing and live in zip code 20500. That is privacy sensitive information (although I picked a public person for this example). They do not provide customers with Trump's private number. That would be private data. They do not just sell ads on their platform, they sell specific target audiences on their platform.

> The ads business or Facebook is based on the very specific data Facebook can provide their advertisers

Again, no it isn’t. Facebook at no point provides data to its advertisers.

Yes, advertisers can say “show this ad to people who are right-wing and live in DC” (although I doubt “dyed hair” is a category). However, the advertisers are never provided with any data about who is in that category. That data never leaves Facebook.

True - bur that doesn’t make their business any more ethical. Users haven’t knowingly given them all that data for that purpose.

That’s a reasonable position to hold but it’s certainly much more likely that reasonable people would disagree than it is that they’d disagree that selling data indiscriminately is wrong.

So criticizing Facebook for the latter (which it doesn’t actually do) is intellectually dishonest.

This is sort of similar to how content owners have muddied the waters of debate by calling copyright infringement stealing. One can certainly argue that both are unethical, but they’re still different things!

Aside: Interesting use of the pronoun 'she' in this comment. FB's behaviour is totally due to Zuck, as he owns 53.3% of the voting shares of the company. FB is Zuck, for all intents and purposes.

I see this use of 'she' from time to time and also curious about motivation here. Also, I'd say even though Zuck is practically face of facebook (heh), company is still genderless and should be referred to as it. In my opinion, of course.

My usual assumption is that the speaker’s first language uses the feminine pronoun for companies. Outside of English, I certainly have the reverse problem of using “it” for all inanimate objects even when they should be “he/she” according to the language’s rules.

In languages with grammatical gender you certainly don't use "it" (neuter gender) for words that have different gender. Interestingly, in both Russian and Spanish "company" has feminine grammatical gender. Also in German (one of the words).

To really get off-topic: The use of 'she' is likely in immitation of the female-gender pronouns that are used to refer to ships and other watercraft or like nation-states, as is common in English. Likening FB to a large ship or country is not unreasonable in terms of how big corporations can be, and I think it may be applicable to larger firms like GE, Ford, Shell, etc that do not have majority voting control by one person. However, as FB is totally controlled by Zuck (an edge case in public companies,for sure), I think that refering to FB like a large ship or micro-state is not apt.

FB is Zuck.

As a native English speaker, I have always been irritated by that usage (which I’ll be the first to admit is not really rational) and I’m pleased that it seems to be dying out.

Personally, I think it's beautiful and poetic and adds a sense of life to an inanimate or immaterial thing.

I think it irritates me for the same reason I get irritated by American English speakers calling soccer “football”, or by people using a dieresis when writing “coördinate”.

Basically, it’s rare enough that it doesn’t sound natural and therefore comes off to me as an affectation, and makes the person sound weirdly smug about being “technically correct”.

I really should get over it, but like I said, not really rational.

Kinda like the names English gives to groups of animals? Pounce of kittens, parliment of owls, dash of cheetahs, etc

Totally going off-topic, but for others like me who love these poetic phrases, they're called "terms of venery", dating back to the late middle ages' hunting tradition [0].

In the list I see "coalition of cheetahs" and "kindle of kittens". But then again, I don't mind new coinages, these are fun.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_terms_of_vener...

Well, afaik English used to have 3 genders for nouns, and it died out everywhere but for third person pronouns.

There are some languages that don't have gender for pronouns, even.

Or some languages that have 2 genders for most things but 3 genders for pronouns (eg. Spanish distinguishes between este and esto because Latin distinguished between iste and istud, but most masculine/neuter contrasts of -us vs. -um did not survive their final consonants no longer being pronounced. Whether or not a language retains such a distinction can appear highly coincidental in the face of such seemingly unrelated phonetic changes.)

They need to change their business model to be able to become privacy friendly, I totally agree. Not even sure which huge company is privacy friendly. Maybe it's not even possible at that level. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

I will try to ask as much as possible, and really like your questions of what data points are useful and are they privacy sensitive.


Can I ask you to ask a question that's not about their apps?

"I understand many if not all of your employees, and even your interns, are technically capable of accessing at least some data from any user, should they decide to do so against Facebook's will. I also understand the repercussion for this is that they would get fired and potentially sued. However, this is not accepted practice in every company that handle such sensitive data on users' personal lives. Moreover, it is easy to imagine adversaries and targets for which the risk of getting fired and/or sued is easily worth the benefit of obtaining a particular user's private data. How, then, do your security experts, who take security seriously and who surely understand the notion of 'defense in depth', justify that the proper safeguard is an employment/legal threat, and that there should not be a technical barrier preventing interns or other normal employees from accessing any user data?"

Bonus points if you can get them to talk such occurrences, which they almost certainly won't tell you, and why users should trust that they're handling this properly when they're unwilling to report sufficiently precise information on such incidents.

I might highlight that there is significant internal technical barriers to access user data!

And it would be very, very hard to circumvent the protection mechanisms without getting caught!

> there is significant internal technical barriers to access user data

Is this a new thing or has it always been the case? Because I'm pretty sure I've heard otherwise before. (Unless by "technical barrier" you don't mean the same thing I do.)

Also what do you mean by "very hard without getting caught"? Is it like hacking their database from the outside/open internet? Or is it like "they can, but it'll trip fifty alarms" [but they'd still get the data].

1. It’s been in place for a long time now...at least since IPO

2. Yes, it’s like hacking the database from the outside in most cases in others it trips alarms and starts an investigation. It all data is created equal here...but generally speaking PII data is highly guarded

> Some people advised me not to go there because it would only do harm to my name and brand, but I think I should

We need more people who are willing to try and solve problems, not just be critical. Thanks for being willing to have a conversation with them. You're making the right call whether you are able to have an impact or not.

> You're making the right call whether you are able to have an impact or not

What if he makes a negative impact?

Perhaps Facebook is not looking for solutions to privacy problems, and this is just a marketing strategy/theater/smokescreen; Creating news events where FB is linked to people in the privacy scene.

If you realistically look at recent news events, i believe this is the most likely scenario.

>impact or not

Willing to solve problems is not the same as willing to be a prop for a problem.

> The Facebook teams are going to give a presentation with some new plans where they want feedback on

This is an "are we off the hook, please say yes" meeting, not a "we don't know how to fix these glaring ethical issues we're profiting from, please help us (for free)" meeting

> We need more people who are willing to try and solve problems, not just be critical.

New Sincerity is exactly the reactionary politics in which Facebook thrives.

Can you rephrase that without grabbing a pair of buzzwords out of the air?

When politicians do focus groups to fine tune their speeches, they are not looking to change their platform, their opinion, or their actions.

They are just looking to fine tune for optics. The knowledge they gain from the focus groups just helps them make their message more palatable.

I think of fb that way because they are masters of double speak, weasel words, etc. which is the common behaviour of dishonest politicians.

Imo many of the questions posted here can be easily deflected, handled with conversation techniques that any politician or lawyer would know well.

You want an airtight position, built on a detailed understanding of how they typically deflect in the past. And because you are asking, you are probably the right person to do this.

Harari tried, and despite being brilliant and knowledgeable, he was simply talked over: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Boj9eD0Wug8 Though I suspect he is aiming for a softer approach.

Instead of a pile of disconnected questions, I would suggest developing a clear list of requirements, statements which must be true as a set, in order for a social system to have an acceptable level of privacy.

The list should be iterated upon, and not sent to them prematurely. It should be built on best practices and knowledge of privacy experts from leading institutions. Then it could be broadly endorsed. Then it could not be as easily weaselled-around.

Also, not just tuning, but, in some forums, the participation of experts itself can legitimize, and be something the powerful entity (organization or individual) can point to as outreach on their part, and validation.

This can be a mutually-beneficial transaction -- the powerful entity that needs to manage perceptions gets a boost, and the participants get a reputation boost for being seen involved in powerful circles. Witness that the HN poster's business is being promoted, just by being invited. (Which is a potential conflict of interest for the experts, if they're supposed to be representing some truth or public interest, but they probably have to play along for this personal boost.)

One thing that can possibly upset this transaction is if there's a channel for uncontrolled speaking out around it. Say, the format is a televised/streamed roundtable, and an expert with the mic decides to burn bridges with the organization and others like them, while saying things the organization really doesn't want them to say. (The motivation could be altruistic/duty, or calculated career grandstanding.) Or, in a tightly-controlled format, the expert who wants to never be invited to that kind of thing again could attend and then immediately bite the hand that just fed it, by ripping it on Twitter/YouTube/Medium/news/op-eds/etc.

I've seen a lot of experts play-along for their careers (in this kind of thing and analogous transactions elsewhere), and sometimes you see modest amounts of pushback by people who are still playing a political game, but rarely you notice a person who won't get on the slippery slope of game-playing at all yet who manages to have impact there.

(Personally, I'd be a terrible politician even if I wanted to be, and I just want to quietly solve technical and societal problems, while someone else fronts the band.)

You should go. But be aware that they're likely using you to look like they legitimately care about their user's privacy. So just don't let yourself be used in that way unless you want to be.

The question I've always wanted to ask Facebook is how much is their data worth? No discussion of privacy at Facebook is interesting unless the discussion concerns money and their bottom line. They undoubtably have people inside Facebook calculating how much spcecific bits of PII are worth to them, and what it would to their bottom line if they stopped collecting them. IMO any discussion of privacy that doesn't quantify it in terms of money is basically a waste of time. They're a company and money is all they care about.

As a corollary to value ask them about risk. How much do they calculate the risk of holding all that PII to be? How much would their bottom line be hurt if they lost it in a breach?

80% of their money will come from big advertisers like Unilever and Coke who target everyone and anyone.

It's only the small advertisers who want their adverts targeted at people in their country and topic, thats it.

That sort of targeting can be done simply by what country is their ip from whats the topic of the content Im sending them.

The whole targeted advertising thing is 100% a gimmick that advertisers don't care about.

This is simply untrue. Large advertisers are often the most demanding about ensuring that their ads reach the specific audience that they are targeting. Giant companies are the only ones who can afford to hire someone whose entire job is "drive engagement with millennials in the American Southwest" (and yes, I personally know someone whose first job was basically that). Small businesses are much less active in managing targeted ads beyond location, as their marketing is usually done in the spare time of the business owner.

> The whole targeted advertising thing is 100% a gimmick that advertisers don't care about.

While many advertisers don't care about it, to others it's very important. For example, if you visit a product page but don't complete a purchase, showing you ads for that project on different pages [1] is much more likely to lead to a sale than showing untargeted ads.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_retargeting

(Disclosure: I work on ads at Google. Speaking only for myself.)

Nonsense. Big advertisers have sub-brands that they love to target. It's not like Coca-Cola corporation is selling a single product. Personal data is a gold mine when it comes time to market individual SKUs.

IP address is poor targeting. Small businesses will want to target a geographic region of their local city & surrounding areas.

While small businesses don't sound as awesome & big as Coke, there are a lot of small businesses.

Edit - my IP address has put me in another state that's over a 6 hour drive away before. I wouldn't find that useful when targeting local people for my store.

Surely even huge multinationals have a need to target their denture glue adverts to people who need denture glue?

1. Do your apps upload metadata and/or thumbnails from photos to which they’re permissions to access, but which aren’t explicitly selected by the user for posting/uploading?

2. Do your apps “skim” the contents of device clipboards and send this info off device without user intent to do so?

And one open-ended question to try to gauge how open they’re being about the whole process:

3. What information do you collect that would surprise or upset privacy-conscious individuals?

> “skim”

I feel like if you ask questions where you have to quote your own words like this, you're basically begging them to be interpreted differently than you intend. I'd be crystal clear about what is being asked.

Agreed. It’s almost impossible to construct a question that can’t be talked around if their intent is to deceive. But if that’s their intent then the whole exercise is pointless.

How’s this?

“Do your apps access the contents of device clipboards and send this information or any modified version of this information off the device without explicit user consent to do-so?”

I'd imagine they'd just say "no" to that because almost certainly somewhere in their ToS/PP they got "explicit" consent from you to sell your soul and everything that goes with it.

Remember, all you need to know from them is what they do and when they do it. You don't need or want them to make a judgment call on the legalities or morality or anything else when responding; you can do that yourself later.

To that end, I'd word it like this:

"What are all the situations in which your apps read clipboard contents, and why is it necessary in each case?" (Obviously pasting would be one scenario, to which you'll just nod and move on...)

(And I would ask the same about microphone data, location data, etc. too, not just clipboard contents.)

Before you decide to go, I'd evaluate exactly what you want out of the engagement and keep that in mind during the whole process. It's so easy to get used in this sort of scenario. Facebook obviously has an agenda of some kind and so should you. If those two agendas don't mesh then you should probably disengage or else be open to a one-sided benefit in their favour.

Be aware that their PR guys could use your name to dilute your previous critical commentary once you have gotten involved and are part of their 'consulted expert' club. This could potentially leave you fighting their PR which will likely just end up with a muddy mess.

Be prepared is what I'd say, a reputation is on the line for you and not much for them.

1. How can one find out about their shadow profiles that have been created by FB?

2. How can they delete the data associated with the above?

3. Info on how they group personal data from WhatsApp, FB and Instagram

4. Who do they share such data with?

5. Who within FB is responsible for privacy policies, etc.?

> 1. How can one find out about their shadow profiles that have been created by FB?

I feel like this is a misguided notion. Facebook doesn't need to create "shadow profiles" for anybody to achieve the same effect: they can just pull together the data on-demand (e.g. say when you create an account, they could scan others' contact lists for a match for your name), without aggregating them together into a 'profile' beforehand. Unless you really intend to ignore that possibility (which I doubt, given the effect would be exactly the same), you probably want to approach it differently than talking about 'shadow profiles'.

For some data, this might be true. But, for example, where is my browsing history stored, which is undoubtedly collected by FB through their social sharing buttons even if I don't have an account? Or any other drive-by data that is collected through third-party apps, websites or whatever and send back to FB. It wouldn't make any sense to store my browsing history somewhere else than in a shadow profile.

No, it actually doesn’t make sense to store it in any kind of profile.

You are right that some fly by data might end up in a server log somewhere but those aren’t kept around for long...if they are kept at all at Facebook scales

Storing and computing data is very expensive and risky at FB scale so they will only keep around what they actually need for as long as they need it. Meaning that data gets send to the server, gets aggregated and then deleted.

An exception of course is content generated by users such as a newsfeed post, as is the nature of the product that content stays around until users delete it

I have my doubts that storing compressed plaintext is expensive for a company that makes, what, 13 billion a year in profit or something like that? Their business is data. The more data they have, the more profit they can generate. The browsing history reveals a lot about humans. Storing it makes sense imho.

>1. How can one find out about their shadow profiles that have been created by FB?

Funny how this question always seems to generate distracting and misdirecting responses.

The simple fact that detractors seem unwilling to address is that FB and countless other internet advertisers are stalking billions of unaware people on a micro level using all sorts of shady and opaque techniques and compiling the most detailed psychological profiles on the most number of people in history.

The public has only just begun to contemplate the massive national security and mental health problems that this mass stalking and manipulation creates.

> This Thursday I'm invited to a privacy roundtable with Facebook Legal and Privacy Policy teams

On 5, I would hazard that it's those teams. Of course, the buck stops at zuck.

Try to investigate the background to this privacy roundtable initiative.

* Which part of Facebook did the initiative come from - privacy policy, or (maybe) PR? How many of the people in the room are from (communications/PR/crisis management/some other related team)

* Is it genuinely an attempt to listen to critics and try to improve? (Can they point to examples of improvements they've already implemented?)

* What will the outcomes of this initiative be? How will they summarise and communicate their action points; how will any such points be followed up?

Ask which one person at FB is held ultimately accountable for privacy, by whom, and how they measure it.

Thanks. That would be interesting to know. One thing; what do you mean with measure it?

> One thing; what do you mean with measure it?

Come PSC (Performance Summary Cycle) time, how do they justify a "Meets All" or "Exceeds" evaluation?

Only aiding and abetting one genocide this year would be a 50% improvement over last year!

Hasn't Zuckerberg answered the parent's question already in his interview with Kara Swisher? (Speaking of which, listen to that podcast before going if you haven't done so already.)

If they’re holding someone accountable, how do they determine whether that person is being effective?

Oh, also? Perhaps ask how that person is empowered and included in decision making?

You're being invited to Facebook Amsterdam. That's like speaking at a Walmart in Kentucky. They won't have any answers to any questions.

I'm about 70% sure someone from fb will notice this thread and construct non-answers for all questions here. Hi!

How can I completely delete a messenger conversation? Is it even possible? If I’m talking to someone on messenger, and we both decide we want to delete the entire conversation, that should be possible with two button clicks.

I talk to my significant other on messenger. It gives me nightmares that any employee at Facebook could access that conversation at any time in the next thirty years.

It’s going to be really interesting when people from my generation start running for office. It’s conceivable a Facebook employee might think it’s “worth it” to check a candidate’s private messages, since he’s a racist Nazi and deserves it, or whatever.

Conceivable? It just happened. https://www.thedailybeast.com/we-found-shawn-brooks-the-guy-...

edit: not a candidate though, would be harder to punch down on someone with political clout and a legal team.

If you're worried about that Messenger supports end-to-end encryption, just hit the "Go to Secret Conversation" button.

I have one.

1. How can someone who does not have an account prevent themselves from being tagged and/or identified in uploaded photos? Corollary: why isn't the tagging and identification of a person an opt-in feature only?

I'd like to add to the above question: how does (or can) a person who never had an FB account request deletion of (possibly illegally collected) private data about them, without having to register to the very platform they're not a member of?

The one privacy control that everybody is waiting for is: automatically delete all my activity data older than N days, where N can be specified by the user.

Why isn't it implemented yet?

While allowing them to specify a minimum and/or incremental value for N. They're a business after all, and our data is their value. I'd be happy with that compromise.

I expect minimal value of N to be either sky high, or decent..with plenty of exceptions written in ToS so that it dosen't do anything - just like most 'out out' forms in other sites that always 'fail' to deliver your opt out.

Agreed, I severely doubt knowing decades old minutiae helps them sell products.

"Why have you argued in court that your users have no 'reasonable expectation of privacy'?"

I'm not sure how to phrase this in a non-combative, constructive way, but I do think it's a really good question.

Facebook's PR team and legal team are arguing two completely separate things right now, and I'd like management to explain how they reconcile those views.

I'd like to know whether their lawyers are right that users have no expectation of privacy, or whether Zuckerburg is right that privacy is the future of Facebook. If Facebook's lawyers aren't misrepresenting the company, then I'd like to know why Zuckerburg and management are so hesitant to make the same arguments in public press releases.

No matter how you phrase it I would guess the response would be something along the lines of "cannot comment on matters relating to ongoing litigation." They'll have a clever way to sidestep every issue they haven't explicitly decided in advance to discuss.

Assuming you won't get actual answers to any of the critical questions, maybe take the opportunity to make the employees more self-conscious about their jobs at FB through questions. Maybe something like: If you decide on a privacy policy as a team here in Amsterdam, does it have any effect on the overall way how FB handles privacy? Do you, as a team and individuals, feel empowered enough to have actual influence over privacy questions and concerns? Especially in the light of FB saying one thing and then doing things completely different.

I’d take a different approach to your preparation:

Try to find videos of FB officers (Zuck, Sandburg) who have already been publicly grilled.

Most likely on a corporate level, FB employees already know how to answer and respond to most of these privacy questions.

That means you need to figure out their initial canned responses, what assumptions they’re building on, and prepare a line of questioning/reasoning to chip away at their logic in follow-ups.

This one: If you don't use Whatsapp but a friend of yours does, he has to give Whatsapp access to his address book which includes your name as well (although you don't use Whatsapp). So the question is: Does Facebook/Whatsapp have information about such passive users (e.g. the name or phone number)?

This is already known, yes, and they're called shadow profiles.

Ok, good to know. But then I would like to know if these show (Whatsapp) profiles are used to match with existing Facebook profiles (based on phone number or name).

The European Commission has fined Facebook €110 million for providing incorrect or misleading information during the Commission's 2014 investigation under the EU Merger Regulation of Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp... When Facebook notified the acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, it informed the Commission that it would be unable to establish reliable automated matching between Facebook users' accounts and WhatsApp users' accounts. It stated this both in the notification form and in a reply to a request of information from the Commission. However, in August 2016, WhatsApp announced updates to its terms of service and privacy policy, including the possibility of linking WhatsApp users' phone numbers with Facebook users' identities.

Facebook using the phone number they requested "for security purposes" to improve ad targeting and let people identify you from your phone number: https://www.forbes.com/sites/leemathews/2019/03/04/facebook-...

Thanks for the detailed information. However, this seems to refer to a match between your own whatsapp number and your own facebook account. What I find even more interesting is that the entire address book can be matched, also if most of your address book contact don't have a whatsapp account but a facebook account!

Start with them defining, "What is privacy?" - Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. - source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privacy

- How does the average customer know they have achieved "privacy". I have a feeling that they have many privacy features, but turned off by default.

- If you start with the end in mind. What does success look like?

Not really privacy related but I would ask them why they allowed a fucking lunatic to livestream a mass killing spree, why they didn't do anything to shut down the stream despite numerous people alerting them to what was going on, why their systems couldn't detect near duplicates of said content in the days, weeks and months that followed and finally, why they would allow absolutely anyone to start live streaming to audiences of potential tens of thousands to begin with. This was a disaster waiting to happen and I'm betting Facebook knew damn well that their technology, processes and culture were in no way equipped to deal with it. This is a rant but as someone who grew up in Christchurch I can't help but feel that they've learned nothing and done even less.

Why does the phone company let drug dealers take phone calls on their cellphone!? How could this happen!?!? Why don't they have a ML global on demand censorship system while also being under privacy scandals!? /s

Ask them if they agree the like and view count next to every post/image/vid has a psychological effects on individuals and groups.

If they agree, ask them if there is anything blocking them from studying the cases where the effects are negative on individuals and groups.

If it is possible to list the kind of content where likes and views are having negative consequences to society that data(counts not content) should not be stored on Facebook server or shown to Facebook users.

Right now there is too much emphasis during privacy debates on all data.

There is no distinction being made between the like and view counts that cause the ALS challenge funding to be produced - a positive to society, and like and view counts that reinforce my antivax aunt's beliefs,

Some of these counts are harmful, some are harmless and some are useful. Why store or display the harmful stuff?

The problem with this argument is who decides whats harmful and whats legitimate society vs fringe society.

We might both agree that your aunt's beliefs are harmful but the anti-vax society that your aunt is a part of will argue that us blindly following experts is harmful.

Should facebook be the ones to decide whats harmful to society? If yes don't be surprised if they consider what they are doing not harmful.

Do Like and View counts have effects on Individuals and Groups outside of whatever their designed purpose is? Its a simple question Facebook needs to answer.

Those counts don't just effect my Aunt, they effect me too. If both the left and the right can agree that the numbers are having an effect, then the narrative changes. Currently we don't even acknowledge the root cause of lot of problems is not the content but the counts.

Those counts aren't just used by Facebook mind you, they can be used by anyone to trigger a particular group or an individual. The content used to do the triggering is just a superficial piece of the story.

Hypothetically, some businesses should not exist. For instance, although a children's-heroin-selling business might be in great demand and turn a huge profit, such a business is not in the best interests of society. Simply optimizing the delivery of things people want is not sufficient to make a good business. "Heavy equipment rental for people under the influence of narcotics" is similar. Without getting into a discussion of social good, or what's moral or not, we can all agree that at times people are willing to make trades for which they themselves would find stupid at other times.

Once data is captured it never goes away. As time passes and as it aggregates with other similar data, it actually becomes much more valuable.

So, continuing along, hypothetically, what are you going to do if capturing personal data in exchange for "free" services is not a business that should exist?

I understand that right now you're engaged in a long and drawn-out split-the-baby campaign, where you try to assure privacy advocates of your intentions and that's there some magic sauce involving algorithms that will solve everything, but what if that is not the case? What if your business model is built on harming people by encouraging them to make trades for personal information where, once we all figure out what we're doing, none of us would agree to fifty years from now? How will you know? Will you tell us? Do you already know? What are your plans?

If you truly want to respect privacy and are on the side of people living their lives without being constantly examined like lab rats and having every piece of their existence recorded for any hacker to see forevermore, what are your plans for knowing that it's not working out? What's your tripwire, your exit plan?

Because frankly, if you don't have one of those, then this is all just a PR exercise, right? You've already decided that you win, you just haven't figured the details out yet.

You can restate the question several different ways, but it all boils down to "How do we know you're serious about this?" Because so far it just looks like a bunch of the usual public relations BS.

I would ask a more generic question.

What's the right level of control users should have over their data?

Then as a follow up I would ask what's keeping Facebook from implementing those controls.

Unless this was already covered in an acceptable way after the Cambridge Analytica f*ckup (I haven't followed what actions Facebook took afterwards to address the issue), I would also ask about what are they doing about policing bad actors, companies trawling or leaking users' private information or abusing it. How are they going to better prevent that in the future. Once it's outside of Facebook they've already lost control of the situation.

Facebook and a "privacy friendly" analytics company. This roundtable will be used just for propaganda.

Huh? From a quick skim here[0], they don't collect IP addresses, respect DNT headers, and delete user agents after 90 days.

I legitly can't think of a more privacy-friendly way to do that. If you're paranoid enough to believe that no analytics is the only right solution, you probably have DNT on, and this is one of the rare cases in which it's actually respected.

[0] https://docs.simpleanalytics.com/what-we-collect

It'll be propaganda for Facebook, not Simple Analytics. If anything, those fears about this roundtable tarnishing their reputation may not be so unfounded...

1. What sustainable business models will Facebook pursue that respect or even facilitate user privacy?

2. What will be simple to use mechanisms / technologies / standards employed by FB to allow users to identify and delete their private information?

3. Will those privacy control mechanisms be standardized across Facebook products / technologies?

4. Will there be an effort to open source technologies / standards with respect to user privacy, so they can be peer reviewed and if good implemented by others in the industry?

Thanks for your efforts!

I work on the assumption that everything I do on Facebook platforms including WhatsApp is secure from random hackers but not secure from the Five Eyes.

Years ago in the Snowden docs there was a diagram of a link into Google's infrastructure where they could take the SSL off and put it back on again, fooling people into thinking everything said about SSL and HTTPS implied actual privacy.

Since this is a taboo, 'not this again' type of question, can you think of ways to ask this in such a way they can only lie?

For instance, what guarantees can Facebook offer to their users that their messages are not being mass intercepted by Five Eyes?

I am fine with police with a job to do getting someone's texts, e.g. if someone is in a road traffic accident when they were texting on WhatsApp, I would gladly have the police get access to that person's data. However, the mass surveillance and the chilling effects that go with it are not good for society. It is a breach of privacy. If the government do such things it is still illegal. Even if they write laws that say it is okay, it is not. So rather than sweep this topic under the rug, I would like the answer from Facebook as to what they are doing and what they would do if their customers were subject to mass surveillance from Five Eyes.

I don't think it is unreasonable to ask this.

What prevents them from publishing an explanation of what they do with their users private data in language understandable by their average users?

What about their current privacy policy do you find hard to understand?

Bit late, but not me. The average user. I think the average user still doesn’t understand how and to what extent their data is analyzed for the ultimate purpose of discovering details about the user which the user did not reveal — for the purposes of advertisements.

If social media platforms do not legally provide an expectation of privacy, as Facebook has recently claimed in US court[1], why should users expect otherwise?


More of a request than a question:

If they want to show respect for privacy a user ought to be able to deep-delete (meaning, from backups too) any and all information they ever posted in any form on FB. This might even include information that was the result of inference from posted data.

I would like a setting that, by default, erases all of my posts older than, say, 30 days.

I would actually pay for this. Not a lot. A nominal amount, like $10 or $20 a year for “premium” options. No problem at all with that concept.

Privacy, amongst other things, should mean the user owns their information, not the service. If I can’t ensure my information is deleted I am one data breach or one disgruntled employee away from losing my privacy.

In this age of vindictive “the internet hates everything” polarization, privacy is critically important.

How can a user purge all data about them on fb, including shadow accounts and backups? How can a non-user opt out of having a shadow profile about them? How can they claim to respext privacy if they dont have flawless answers for these?

Tell them you want easy access to your "friends" email address and other contact information and a quick way to transfer it to other social networks if you want. That is the "privacy" they say they are protecting.

Ask them if (and how) they intend to change their ad platform to sell ads to ethics and privacy conscious owners of small businesses.

I’m a small business entrepreneur and I’m frustrated that to compete well in my sector I would have to advertise on Facebook. Their ad system currently seems intractably unethical because they know and actively use so much user data that users have not knowingly given away for the purpose of advertising. I don’t want to be asked in the Final Judgment why I paid into such a scheme of abuse — which is what it currently seems to be.

You don't have to agree with her politics, but I think Peggy Noonan had the right answer on this one: it's a show and there's no good to be found in taking part.

Just say no and hit send.

> In February 2018 Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein of Wired wrote a deeply reported piece that mentioned the 2016 meeting. It was called so that the company could “make a show of apologizing for its sins.” A Facebook employee who helped plan it said part of its goal—they are clever at Facebook and knew their mark!—was to get the conservatives fighting with each other. “They made sure to have libertarians who wouldn’t want to regulate the platform and partisans who would.” Another goal was to leave attendees “bored to death” by a technical presentation after Mr. Zuckerberg spoke.


Any info on shadow profiles you could get would be very valuable.

Yes, will definitely ask about that.

I'm not so hopeful. I explained here why: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20390678

I agree. I also don't think it's useful to use the term as Zuck explicitly evaded answering to that. What is more useful would be the answer to the question how easy for them is to aggregate information about a person not using FB and whether this information is used in any way (I have no hope of hearing any meaningful answer to that, but it can be amusing to see how they evade it).

Privacy settings:

Would FB be willing to work with a neutral third party group of user experience designers? Let's call them the PWHUX Board for Privacy White Hat User Experience. (Or maybe something else, PWHUX sounds a bit rude in English.)

This PWHUX Board would create standardized user interface conventions for disclosing and controlling personal privacy settings. This same group might work with other datahoovering businesses to establish multi-vendor standards.

I'd assume the Legal and Privacy Policy teams can't give you answers about strategy from their C-level other than what they've already made public through vague statements. So I wouldn't get angry if I couldn't get anything useful from them.

You could ask if they plan to let users know exactly (and be able to opt out) where their data will end up (internal only, 3rd-parties, which ones? Could you select purpose?).

And of course, GDPR globally.

If you're seriously soliciting HN for questions, then make sure to record yourself asking questions you pick here so we can hear FB's response.

This is a privacy roundtable that's private?


You see what I'm getting at? They understand privacy just fine when it's their own privacy.

I think you would just be a fig leaf.

Ask them why the exposed moderators who now live in constant fear for their lives in their own countries were not offered serious compensation that could last them a significant chunk of their lifetimes (which would be on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars). [1] Facebook will most likely respond that their threat assessments didn't warrant it. To which you'd ideally respond by asking them why a reasonable victim should consider it fair or reasonable to be forced to trust Facebook's security chops when Facebook already failed him once and put his life in danger.

Seriously, it's ludicrous to offer just a "home alarm system" and a ride to work (which I also assume is to their current job... why the hell should they keep doing the same job?) for a moderator who's now going to be in perpetual fear of getting killed. Those people may well no longer be able to work like they used to, for any employer.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/16/facebook-...

I really don’t think this is as credible of a threat as you paint it to be.

Terrorists don’t go around killing people for banning them from forums.

This is such a strange response. First of all, Facebook's inability to keep their moderators' identities private is an issue regardless of how the terrorists respond.

> Terrorists don't go around killing people for banning them from forums.

It seems incredibly arrogant to assume that you know what terrorists will and will not do (especially when used as a rebuttal to someone expressing concern for real people who have been put in this situation).

I don't have any experience interacting with terrorists, but growing up in a poor education system in the southeastern U.S., I've witnessed my fair share of gang activity. I have seen incredible confrontation/violence erupt as a consequence of amazingly trivial actions.

It does not seem far fetched to me that an extremist group would possess the potential to respond dispraportionately to a perceived act of disrespect or aggression. Given the circumstances, it's hard to find a charitable interpretation of why you would suggest otherwise.

>First of all, Facebook's inability to keep their moderators' identities private is an issue

Agreed, but it’s not an issue because they’re going to get killed by terrorists. I’m objecting to the dishonest framing, not trying to argue that this isn’t an issue.

>It seems incredibly arrogant to assume that you know what terrorists will and will not do

Your assumptions seem at least as arrogant.

>I don't have any experience interacting with terrorists

I do

>>I don't have any experience interacting with terrorists

>I do

Is it something you're at liberty or willing to talk about? Cause I'm intrigued.

I used to know this kid called Junaid, at some point he was relatively normal. He became less and less normal though, and eventually got in trouble with the law over some silly hacks. He fled the UK to Syria and joined ISIS.

In Syria I watched him wave around guns on skype for a couple of years until he was placed at the top of the US kill list and eventually got incinerated.

Why are you continuing to hammer away with the Reddit style comments? You might have a good point, but now you are acting like an argumentative ass.

This isn't some sort of internet pissing contest with people you don't know and will never meet; that is literally any other online forum that I've seen. This is a forum to discuss issues with people who are interested in them. You are purposefully diluting the conversation, and for what? The lolz?

Go somewhere else with this crap

Please don't cross into personal attack here. We ban accounts that do that, as you know, but we don't want to ban you.


How come so much of your comment history consists of complaining about “reddit comments”?

I’m not an argumentative ass because my opinion differs from yours, that’s all in your head.

Credible or not, you need to compensate for the fact that you've terrified someone for the rest of their lives and made them understandably fearful of making a living.

Presumably it’s some reporter and not facebook doing the terrifying.

>made them understandably fearful of making a living

These fb moderators have much less to fear than a factory worker, taxi driver or a convenience store clerk.

The fb mods are vastly more likely to be killed in a traffic accident on their commute than to get targeted by terrorists because they banned someone.

How should such a fundamentally unreasonable fear be compensated? Seems to me that it’d be enough to just offer counseling to distressed employees.

Whether or not a threat is credible is a different thing from whether or not the fear resulting from it is reasonable.

I know. I just don’t see anyone spending much time worrying about random store clerks vastly more reasonable fear of getting robbed.

This is kinda like being scared of a plane crashing on top of you, sure it’s possible and a scary thought, but ...

No it's not. Your example is not reasonable. The fear of a plane landing on top of you is pretty generic, and the risks are well-known and well-understood to who work closer to planes. The one here is quite reasonable, entirely a result of Facebook screwing up, and not something that's supposed to come with the job the way it did. I outlined these for you and completeness's sake, but they should have been fairly obvious, so I'm not going to entertain more unreasonable comparisons.

I guess we just disagree, as I see it both of these are equally reasonable.

This is pretty weird though, all kinds of people regularly make far more impactful decisions than issuing facebook bans without having to hide their names.


It's linked on the bottom of the post.

He worked in an anti-terrorism unit at Facebook under his real-name Facebook account?

Well, I don't know what to say...

To be clear, he was required to use his real Facebook account. From the article:

> The moderator said that when he started, he was given just two weeks training and was required to use his personal Facebook account to log into the social media giant’s moderation system.

This seems like reckless endangerment to me.

Adjacent to pure "privacy" issues is a/the "data ownership" question, or maybe it should be framed as the public vs private data issue.

That is, maybe if FB own the data, advertisers buy it and states/others hack into it... the right solution is to "push the arrow through" rather than extract it. Make the data (or most of it) public. Publish it. It's not really "private" in a meaningful way. The subject (object?) does not have control of and/or knowledge of the dataset describing them. Also (this relates to my last point) data is not the sum of its part. A lot of what the data is only exists at the aggregate level, and without publication users can never have control, ownership or any rights to these crucial aspects of their data..

To put it in the form of a question: Are there ways of arriving at a better state, with less distrust and paranoia that involves opening data, rather than just better protecting it.

I'm not suggesting that it's simple or that I know exactly how it should work. But, if advertisers had the same access everyone has, I think it'd be less of an issue. If the default was "data is public," I suspect we'd find better ways of dealing with data that truly needs to stay secret.

As an aside, unconnected to privacy, data has become a new class of IP. We may legally consider it copyrighted (raw data) or patent-able (trained NNs), but as a practical matter it is a new type of IP... of rapidly growing importance. There are massive, world changing examples of what can happen when we manage to create cultures of "public IP" or sharing. The scientific revolution was (arguably) directly related to the new culture of publishing experimental results. CS was irrevocably changed by free and/or open source software, especially compilers, operating systems, libraries... The WWweb, in lots of ways. The pace of the current ML explosion is directly related to and enabled by open source, free software, scientific publishing and "open IP" generally.

Imagine how held back we would have been, if those cultures of sharing hadn't emerged. I think data sharing is probably similar in this regard to compiler code or scientific experiments. Openness creates value, potentially a lot of it.

Privacy is a meaningful reason/excuse for closed data. I think it's worth trying to solve these two together. Dunno how to phrase a question for that.

Ask them what they think is their impact on the journalism and the news. We see destruction of local news, specialty journalism, etc, and lots of it is thought to be attributed to privacy violations by FB and Google. Who needs a local newspaper if a local business can target people on FB or on Candy Crush Saga? That's the bottom line.

What incentives do employees & engineers have for improving privacy or preventing privacy issues & bugs?

Kind of like how FB's performance became part of annual review & promotion rubrics for employees recently?

Can other employees spike projects started by anti-privacy gordon gekkos to improve short term metrics?

Ask them do they provide all the data what they store on an individual when the data is requested, and if they don't do that, ask them why.

A reference read: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19959064

Why do you insist on switching to Top Stories even when the user consistently switches back to Most Recent?

Why are there not more granular privacy controls?

Why is what a user sees of their friends that which is in the audience for a post? I don't need to see what someone "commented on".

Why don’t they provide an API to easily use your personal data in other places? Why don’t they use federation services to let Facebook talk to ActivityPub services? If they truly cared about privacy they would give you a way to use your data outside of the platform.

Which teams budget is larger, privacy or legal?

If that question is deniable, then does FB take no efforts to guess at individuals budgets? (Ie household income, rent/mortgage, monthly subscriptions, etc) Does FB grant people privacy for what’s in their bank accounts?

I have had quite a bit of trouble registering an insta account via Tor. I get that the IPs are likely blacklisted for abuse, but I do not see a path to privacy on that platform. Would they be interested in supporting an onion url for insta?

What are they doing to lobby against the age verification procedures in the UK, initially applied to porn, but which the government has clear intent to extend to all social media and is one of the biggest attacks on privacy in history?

Ask how Facebook actually measures its fake accounts. See https://www.plainsite.org/realitycheck/facebook.html.

“Given Facebook’s ability to track the amount of time a user spends on any given item in their newsfeed, do you also track how long users spend reading terms and conditions, privacy policies, and so forth? If not, why not?”

I think what everyone truly wants is the ability to be forgotten. "Like I was never there".

But Facebook has a strong monetary incentive to never forget anything, ever. They have an incentive to make it unclear just how much data they're keeping about their users. They have a strong incentive to be as opaque as possible. And even if they let users be forgotten, they've got a strong incentive to make that hard to do.

How can Facebook balance it's responsibility to shareholders to earn profits with their responsibility as ethical humans to allow people to be forgotten? I do presume that, as people, they want to be ethical (and I'm sure someone will say I'm naive for believing that).

And how can Facebook make it's decision on where they lie on that spectrum clear to their users, so people can make informed decisions about what they want to share and do on the platform?

The hardest decisions businesses have to make is when to give up profit by doing the right thing. And the most profitable companies are the ones run by sociopaths for whom this is not a difficult problem.

> Some people advised me not to go there because it would only do harm to my name and brand, but I think I should.

Is there anything in particular that drives your participation? The reasoning is peculiar.

It's obvious to anyone that their current business models are hostile to privacy. Do they have a plan to fundamentally change the way they make money? If so, what is it?

What is the motivation for improving privacy? Do they aim to do just enough to get good PR or can they demonstrate a more fundamental change to their security culture?

I'd be interested in knowing if Facebook has any ties with the (Dutch) government. And if that is the case, to what extend do these collaborations go.

Ask why they lied to the EU when they said they couldn't merge WhatsApp's data with Facebook's data.

When they knew they could.

What's the point in asking them what they could do, there's plenty they could do but shouldn't.

What are being done about countries buying political ads to be displayed in a targeted country?

Will they honor GDPR related requests? The last I saw, the have some checkbox they require european users to "agree" to in order to continue using FB, which basically waives their GDPR rights.

In addition, you might want to review the questions from when Zuckerberg was in front of the European parliament. The MEPs asked some good questions and Zuck basically weasled out of it. I'd love to see the same questions brought up again.

And also, info about shadow profiles.

GDPR is a good question as I'm not sure they can 'waive' the GDPR rights. There is an ongoing court case in the EU at present.

I'm fairly sure that you can't make "waiving" the rights that the GDPR grants you a condition for using a service.

Privacy lawyer here...you 100% cannot waive your GDPR rights as a condition of the service. In fact your consent can not be a precondition of using the service. Most adtech companies out there will try to rely on legitimate interest as a basis for processing.

they can write whatever they want when asking user to 'waive' GDPR rights.

That isn't legally binding at all.

How are you redesigning your business model in order to honor user privacy?

What would the most privacy aware social media company look like?

A "simple" one,: Do they plan to fullfill GDPR requests?

Here is a good story of a guy who tried to get all the data the company had on him without anything close to a real answer:


Shadow profiles. Man everyone wants and answer on these

"Would you object to GDPR-style legislation being passed in the United States?"

How is Facebook a free speech platform if users cannot control how and to who their speech is directed?

Ask them what their main basis for processing personal data under GDPR is when they collect user data. Also ask about their retention management. How can they ensure personal data is only retained so long as they have a basis for processing?

You might ask if FB organization is a parasitic operation sucking down personal data any way they can and selling it to who?. Who knows who else. You know part of the answer. Watch the squirm ensue.

The squirming would be from everyone else in the room, embarrassed on your behalf.

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