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FTC commissioner met with Apple regarding Facebook’s iOS 14 complaints (myhealthyapple.com)
109 points by aeromusek 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 95 comments

Facebook's concept of informed consent is a cynical joke, and we can only laud companies and governments that rein in on their bordeline-illegal practices.

I've recently signed up for Facebook to use Wit.ai, and have gone through account settings to lock down the account as much as possible. It took me about an hour to set everything to private in this new account, and I'm still not sure what would happen if I start posting on their platform.

The settings page is not the only place that needs to be checked if you mind your privacy, there will be a myriad of configuration options and barely discoverable controls that appear in different places on your profile, and remain hidden until you submit further content.

Careful. I opened a Facebook account to help my wife with administering FB ads for her business. Everything was fine, until I went through and locked down my privacy settings, and within 24 hours my account got suspended.I had to provide a phone number to unlock my account. Within a day or two it got suspended again. This time I had to upload a photo to unlock it. The cynic in me believes that this was just so that they had enough information to identify me and match me to my shadow profile.

Needless to say after that they declined to reinstate my account - without any recourse or right of reply - due to community policy violations. Given that my only contribution was managing ads - and my wife’s account remains unsuspended despite managing the same ads - I’m left drawing conclusions from my own anecdata that they very much don’t like having overly privacy focused accounts.

That is exactly what happened to my Facebook account, and it only got reinstated after this issue: https://github.com/facebook/react-native/issues/30395

Though mine was probably locked solely because of the way I've metodically checked out every configuration option, and used Firefox with fingerprint protection enabled.

This whole ordeal made me realize that Facebook is sitting on personal data from possibly millions of profiles that are banned. I've read several reports about people logging in years after the account got suspended, and their personal data is still downloadable, but they are not offered further control of the data, such as deletion, which is illegal in the EU.

The most ridiculous part of Facebook’s anti-privacy crusade is that FB allows its employees to “lock their account,” making absolutely all information private / only visible to friends, even cover photos.

FB’s website claims the feature is “only available in some countries and on some devices,” but it’s BS, it’s actually an easy opt-in for employees.

It shows that FB understands the need for privacy, but only if you’ll help them spy on others.

To be fair, from what I heard you need to have a facebook account in order to work there.

You do, but as the above commenter mentioned, you also need to have a Facebook account in order to be a customer of Facebook Ads, and for many other uses.

Purposely keeping that feature exclusive to employees shows that Facebook understands the desire for privacy, but only for those working for them.

Facebook's take on privacy is also a joke. "Privacy" according to them is privacy from other users, but the concept of privacy from Facebook itself doesn't exist.

When I had a facebook account (years ago) I would go through that hassle, and then a month later the settings would get reset and I'd have to do it again. I think there might have been some explanation like they were adding new privacy options or similar.

I was recently met with a new popup in the Instagram app, asking me to allow it to track me across applications. I actually said yes, because I get great targeted ads in Instagram and Facebook. I've clicked on multiple ads and actually even made purchases of things that I didn't know about that looked interesting.

But the important part is that I do it willingly. I'm glad they were forced to ask -- not everyone is ok with that kind of tracking, and that's the whole point. I'm totally with Apple on this one. Give people choice.

I made my choice, and everyone else should get to make theirs too.

Are you ok? I’ve never heard any anyone this thrilled about an ad experience in my life.

I'm fine, thanks. :)

The purpose of ads is to inform people of things they wouldn't otherwise know about. In that regard, I appreciate good ads that tell me about things I would want to know about and didn't already.

For example, some of the ads I get are for live shows (back in the before times). These are live shows that I enjoy going to, but would never have known about, because I don't know where to look for them. Having it pushed at me helps me.

> The purpose of ads is to inform people of things they wouldn't otherwise know about

That's cute. I've never seen an ad for a wikipedia page though.

The real purpose of ads is to convince people to buy things that they otherwise might not have, so that companies can make a profit.

Take the https://www.theguardian.com/. I've got adverts for:

- an electric toothbrush. I already have one. But surely the new model is better!11!

- London apartments. I live 170 miles away and have no desire ever to live in London. But maybe I should because London is so amazing!11!!

- Remitly ("send money to India online"). I do not know anyone in India and have no need to send money there.

- "70% off" "Store Clothing", whatever the hell that is. I have plenty of clothes. But maybe I need more and to be more fashionable!11!!

So what you're saying is that better ad targeting would improve your experience?

"Better" in the same sense as a "sufficiently smart compiler"? Sure.

But it shows that access to state-of-the-art targeting isn't helping at all. So right now it's clearly not worth a privacy tradeoff.

Better ad targeting definately can improve the user experience ... but the path to get there is insidious ...

The entire ad database would have to be client side with payments per product sold. (I'm only half joking)

The example I gave elsewhere are ads for live shows (back when that was a thing). I like live shows and sometimes the ads are the only way I learn about new ones.

Not a fan of targeted ads, but which ad to show you is only half of the part. The other part is tracking conversions, aka finding out if you actually bought some item after you saw the ad.

Also, ads don't have to work for everyone. If they work for some folks, it's already profitable for the platforms. And they do work.

I would say tracking conversions is the most important part. There’s always a lot of attention on targeting because it’s user-facing, creepy, and strikes a nerve with the HN crowd. But anyone that has spent five minutes working with their marketing people or implementing adTech would know the true story.

“Are these ads effective? Should we spend more money on them?” Without conversion data the answer is one big shrug emoji.

I don’t believe most companies in the tech industry care about tracking/fingerprinting users for the sake of collecting & reselling their data. First hand experience, I’m just not ever seeing that. They just want to know if their ads are working or not.

> I would say tracking conversions is the most important part. There’s always a lot of attention on targeting because it’s user-facing, creepy, and strikes a nerve with the HN crowd.

It doesn't help that people try to sell conversion as something that benefits the ad viewer because if it increases sales, it must also be good for the people doing the buying or something like that. That argument of "better ads" then gets easily misunderstood as targeting but it is only indirectly about that.

CPC scales with how well ads work. Seller and viewer benefit from working ads. It seems ad platforms benefit most from ads that don't work.

Ad platforms benefit from ads working because then advertisers spend more money on the platform.

> The real purpose of ads is to convince people to buy things that they otherwise might not have

In particular, things they otherwise might not have and don't need enough to look for actively on their own.

The reality of ads is that you can target them via the content of the page without all that reprehensible spying on people.

It's just less profitable.

This is specially true for any kind of news websites or blogs, where it's obvious what content a specific URL contains. The fact alone that a visitor is on that page makes him the best candidate for a targeted ad which refers to the content of the page.

No need to have over a dozen of trackers on that page so that advertisers create a profile of you.

The problem is the audience is global as well as the content in many cases.

My local Hearst paper operates a templates website full of crap trackers and ads that are brokered at a central point. They aren’t selling the inventory with local sales managers etc. To keep costs down, everything is aggregated.

On HN there seems to be a notion that ALL Ads are bad. No Ads should be allowed. And yet at the same time they are enjoying all the free tools and website build upon this business model.

And then also the notion that ALL data gathered intrude privacy. And somehow anyone on the Internet should be anonymous, may be that is not even the right word, may be invisible could be used to better describe it.

Privacy means people know what they're signing up for, in plain language, and repeatedly.”

There should be a middle ground somewhere. Not all Ads are bad. I love useful Ads, but I hate bad ads, whether that is placement or the actual ads itself. And I know people gets to discover new Games, Clothes, Shows, or other product they like through these ads.

It cant be an all or nothing world. Which the Internet in general likes to encourage, and there is no middle ground. We need to start looking at Ads as part of UX, and not just money / target optimising tools.

> ALL Ads are bad. No Ads should be allowed. And yet at the same time they are enjoying all the free tools and website build upon this business model.

And then also the notion that ALL data gathered intrude privacy. And somehow anyone on the Internet should be anonymous, may be that is not even the right word, may be invisible could be used to better describe it.

Let's name it the Thiel paradox. Maybe then this flavor of cognitive dissonance is better captured and told further.

Instagram is actually pretty good at displaying only ads for things I’m interested in. Maybe I’m an easy mark, but it doesn’t really bother me, and occasionally I’ll buy something. I’ve also had the opposite experience on other platforms, where the targeting is shit and the ads make me stop using a product/app/site.

I think this is great. By putting tracking in the control of the user, the user can decide if they want shitty, generic ads or targeted relevant ads. What’s missing now is a built in ad blocker for iOS.

Did you buy the floppy fish? The cat on Instagram seems to love that shit.

My cats (kittens, really) couldn't care less about it.

My cats are also extremely indifferent, but I actually bought 20 of them and used them in lieu of packing peanuts for a box of birthday presents for my partner.

I would be just as thrilled if companies gave me ads for things I wanted to buy, as long as the ad was not stopping me for doing what I was doing at the moment.

As it is the closest I get is ads for something I looked at 20 days ago and decided not to buy.

I love the Instagram and Facebook ads. They're always well targeted for me. And sometimes I go back to look for one I saw earlier in the day.

Ironically I had the same experience with Apple News app - I was seeing the same ads over and over again. I can not block the ads and I didn’t want to subscribe. I just gave up and toggled the setting to show personalized ads - hoping to at lease see something different.

I enjoy the ad content on FB far more than the posts on FB. Especially over the last six months.


Heh, it's funny you mention that. For the longest time I refused to run Adblock because it felt hypocritical. But eventually the experience got so bad I relented.

I wouldn't say I have an incentive for internet ads to be successful. From the very beginning I advocated for revenue streams other than ads. And reddit is fairly diversified. I don't work there anymore anyway.

I guess I just don't mind advertising if done well and is relevant.

I guess I just can't, no matter how hard I try, imagine why a person would think ads are good, especially targeted ads. The only reason I can come up with is that a person would willingly look past how odious advertising is because it pays their bills.

If as you say that's not the case then can you help me understand why?

TL;DR: It gives me ideas of ways to spend money I was already going to spend, but now I have a place to start my research with some concrete ideas.

Well, I've given the example of live shows a couple of times. I've been to a few live shows that I learned about from targeted ads. Those were experiences I enjoyed and would not have learned about otherwise.

I'll pull up my Insta feed right now and list the targeted ads:

Osmo -- This is a game system for my kids that I already own. The ad isn't super useful, except I just learned about a new game they're releasing that I might want to get for my daughter. I may have eventually seen this elsewhere, but this is the first I'm seeing it.

Osmo again. But from a different vendor.

Lego -- They have some new sets that I didn't know about. I enjoy building legos with my kids, so now I know about a few new sets we might enjoy together.

Something called Soundbrenner. It's a gadget for musicians. I'm not a musician so this doesn't interest me. None the less, I am glad I know about this because I have musician friends who might be interested in something like this, so maybe the next time I talk to them I'll mention it, and they may be appreciative of me telling them because it can give them an idea of a new way to improve their play. Maybe they'll buy the gadget, maybe they'll find something similar, maybe they'll build something similar.

A charity for helping teachers during Christmas. This interests me. I support education and there is a good chance I'll make a donation to this cause. Now I'm happy that I found out about this charity.

An ad for a service that turns pictures of your pets into hand done oil paintings. I don't have pets, but one of my best friends does as do my parents, so there is a possibility I'll use this service as a Christmas gift.

A contest to win a Lamborghini featured in a lady gaga video. This is mistargeted and I have no interest.

A food sealing kitchen gadget. I'm going to forward this to my wife, who loves cooking gadgets, and then she'll check her cooking forums for someone who had a DIY version, but now she has a new idea to ask about.

Bed Bath and Beyond. Meh, don't really care.

A clothing company that follows the Tom's model of buy one give one. I don't like the clothes, but if I did, this is the kind of thing I might support if I need new clothes.

Some sort of prescription drug. The ad doesn't even say what it cures. So I have no interest in this. However, if it happened to be for an ailment that I actually have, I'd probably click through to find out more and be a jumping point for my own research.

Quicken Loans. I actually hate this ad because it encourages people to refinance their 30 year mortgage into a 15 year mortgage which is a terrible idea.

Another ad for musicians, this time an app. Same comment as above -- not interested but I may mention to a friend.

An ad for a new star wars game in VR. As it turns out, I recently bought an Occulus (from someone on HN actually) so this might be a game I would be interested in. I probably would have found out about this later when looking for new games, but this is the first I've heard of this game.

Another Lego ad, this time a different set.

Anyway, I could keep going, as the ads are endless (although they start to repeat). The point is, in most of these cases, I learned something new that I didn't know before.

Yes, in every case, they are trying to get me to spend money. But it's money I probably would have been spending anyway (Christmas presents, games my kids and I can play together, games I can play alone, charity donations). So I'm glad that I now have some ideas and places to start looking.

In a lot of cases, the ads are just jumping off points for research, but they give me new ideas I wouldn't have thought of.

Here's what I don't get: Why not just block the ads, which has two benefits:

1. Reduces profitability of advertising companies 2. Makes browsing the web sane (not to mention 30000% more pleasant)

And then after you've blocked all the ads you can just search for $subject_or_product_genre_that_interests_you, on your own terms, without worrying about scumbags tracking you and mining crypto via javascript in your browser?

I do block ads in my browser. I only have them in the apps on my phone, where they are unblock able anyway.

Also, a lot of sites I like exist because of ads. If everyone had them off, they wouldn't exist anymore.

And because I wouldn't even think to search for those topics in the first place. It's the act of seeing that ad that gets me to start thinking about that topic in the first place.

Courteous of you to point out that for about the same length of time you worked for Reddit, you worked for Netflix - so are you really a shill for "big subscription"? I think the world needs to know (/s)

You never heard about anyone being excited about any commercial product? Never heard about people learning about new product, and being happy about it?

Thanks for the perspective. I was an early Instagram user, but deleted my account not so long after they introduced stories.

Recently, I registered a new account, and after a grace period without ads, I was surprised by just how drenched it has become in advertising. I used it to follow professional athletes. First of, many of the organic posts are themselves sponsored advertising, then the athletes share brand posts from their sponsors, and then between every story you get an actual ad.

Of course, with more personal connections the trade of might be different, but for my use case described above Instagram seemed unsustainable.

> but for my use case described above Instagram seemed unsustainable.

Which part?

Another interpretation is, professional athletes don't really enrich your life at all. You have as big a problem with celebrity as you do with a piece of software.

I'm not parent but I follow many professional athletes as well and in my case Instagram is very useful! In fact it's the one social media account I didn't get rid of. For two reasons mainly:

* Announcements - Some of the sports I follow don't have a "regular season" like e.g. Basketball or American Football, they are organised more like boxing where an athlete may compete for one federation or another, and the events don't follow a pre-determined schedule: so you need to keep up with the news if you want to be able to watch them at all.

* Instructionals - athletes often will publish instructional videos and when that happens they advertise them on their channels. Those are usually an order of magnitude more in-depth than anything you can find for free (e.g. Youtube) - I was never very athletic but I'm finally trying to get better so those are very helpful for me. (Edit: Of course this is a form of advertising but I'm very disciplined and avoid overspending at all costs, I buy instructionals once in a blue moon).

Most of the people I follow are friends with kids. It's how we swap pictures of our kids. The rest of my follows are web comics. I follow a couple of "famous" people, but they are mostly people with compelling content and not vapid influencer content.

My experience seems to be that I see a whole bunch of fresh updates from friends, and then ads. If I'm looking when there are few updates, it's mostly ads. If I see mostly ads I know that I should put the phone down and come back in a few hours. :)

I haven't gotten that popup. Are you sure that's actually a meaningful choice you can make and not just a test to see how many people are going to opt-in when this finally rolls out in iOS?

No idea. Since I said yes my experience didn't change. Could be a test of some sort.

I'm on the iOS beta so that might have something to do with it.

I'm on Android and I get this popup in Instagram every few months (I'm assuming because I decline every time), so I doubt it's iOS related

Have you maybe turned off the ability for apps to ask at all? I have.

The App showed a message asking if I would prefer targeted ads. It just asked me yesterday so there is hope for you!

"made purchases of things that I didn't know about that looked interesting"

Interestingly, that's precisely the reason I hate targeted ads. They just make me buy more things I didn't otherwise need.

I see your main point though, it's nice to give the choice.

jedberg likely has a lot of cash to spend on random shit, he ran Site Reliability at Netflix which pays its entry level engineers $400K.

just for other people's context: "entry level" in netflix is not the same as entry level even at other big companies (i.e. FB or Google), they only take experienced engineers

Frivolous overconsumption is harmful to society and the environment, not just to your wallet.

The large amount of debt ceded from society to jedberg in exchange for aiding and abetting the pollution of peoples' minds is morally reprehensible and disgusting to me

You think Netflix is polluting people’s minds? What’s OK with you, reading Wittgenstein over backgammon?

Watching ads

Netflix doesn’t have ads.

I disagree. This cross-app tracking is an anti-trust concern. Plus, it's just fiscally irresponsible to give users choices. Facebook doesn't run a business in the real world, instead they play "games" which have optimal strategies and numbers to min/max. The more money they sink into surveillance-advertising, the more incentive they have to push users to actually use it. That incentive never goes away, it just builds pressure over time. This pressure inevitably manifests as lobbying money to rewrite the law in their own interest. There is a common saying in the U.S. with regards to business: "You are either growing or you are dying."

We don't need to live inside of a panopticon in order to figure what shows are playing in town, what new items are down at the shops. Tell me what city you live in; I can help you find stuff around town at no cost and I don't even have to spy on you.

Would you pay a small amount for those ads?

Why would I pay for targeted ads? You mean because I find them useful? I assume they're more useful to the advertisers than to me. I am willing to not get paid by them since I find them useful.

I think the parent question is interesting... you say you derive value from them, so it's somewhat conspicuous and seemingly arbitrary (rather than intentional, or calculated) that you've happened upon exactly $0.00 as the value to you, rather than negative (you'd like no ads unless you're being paid to compensate for the pain, loss of privacy, etc.) or positive (because you enjoy them and derive value out of them as a discovery service)...

Many things end up at exactly $0.00 because the transaction costs (handling payments, dealing with refunds, reporting taxes, etc.) exceed whatever value the thing has.

This is part of the reason why so many things are ad-supported to begin with -- even if someone is willing to pay $0.03 to read a random article, there's no effective way to collect that.

Pretend the payment is on a yearly basis for this hypothetical, then. With micropayment fees, making anything 25 cents and up viable.

I don't think jedberg said anything that implies the value is exactly $0.00.

Rather, jedberg has already found way more suppliers than he needs, all willing to supply him ads at $0.00, which makes that the equilibrium price.

Analogously, I would value oxygen basically infinitely high because I don't want to die. However, I would never pay for it because I can easily get it for free, and would laugh at anyone who tried to charge me for permission to breathe.

I think it's difficult in general for people to put a price on most of the things they get for free, just because they're used to getting them for free, and build their price intuitions on being able to get them for free.

OP is already paying for them by buying the products they sell.

this is the weirdest take on ads i’ve ever heard. sounds like “i have too much money and enjoy when people show me new ways of spending it”

The purpose of ads is to inform people of things they wouldn't otherwise know about. In that regard, I appreciate good ads that tell me about things I would want to know about and didn't already.

> The purpose of ads is to inform people of things they wouldn't otherwise know about.

You keep saying that, but that is plainly a positive spin on the purpose and not completely truthful.

If that were the purpose, why are there adverts for e.g. milk?

> The purpose of ads is to inform people of things they wouldn't otherwise know about.

I don't see how this squares with things like blatant scare mongering smearing in political ads, and things like cowboys riding a truck up Mt. Everest to crack open a beer.

Ads can be there just to associate emotional moods and undertones with a product or person, etc., and aren't only about surfacing unknown products.

The purpose of ads is to get you to buy things you wouldn’t have otherwise. The vendors aren’t interested in you being informed, that would mean considering competitive products.

>i have too much money and enjoy when people show me new ways of spending it

Is there something wrong with that?

I get another popup in Facebook that only has an opt-in no opt out.

I've screenshottet it and it might very well become my second actual gdpr complaint.

My first was a few days ago when "HP smart" demanded with no workaround that I hand over my email address to print on my own old printer.

I wonder how you get into a useful ads category! Instagram usually wants to show me either absurdly expensive luxury property, student flats to rent near universities I’ve never been to, or luxury investment property in Dubai. They did at one point think I’d want to constantly see massively marked up dumbbells when they were sold out everywhere but when I didn’t bite they went back to showing me property I can’t afford in areas I don’t live.

If you can work remotely or own your own business, luxury property in Dubai can actually be pretty interesting. It's not a bad place to live, no taxes and ridiculously low real estate prices make it a rather attractive proposal.

Yeah I’m honestly not sure how anyone can make a case against giving users a choice with a straight face. We’re already conditioned to all these annoying GDPR pop ups anyway, so it’s not like another one would disrupt the status quo. Besides, contrary to the GDPR “consent” pop-ups, this upcoming iOS one actually has a useful impact.

Facebook built it’s business on tracking users. It seems that’s solely their choice, only they reap the rewards and suffer the consequences of that choice. If users are fine with it the impact shouldn’t be horrible. If they aren’t, well, why does Apple or users have any obligation to care about the impact? Why is this a valid complaint?

You explained it, its Facebook's only choice.

Facebook didn't make a compelling argument, only that they felt obligated to attempt to use all available remedies to retain their advertisers and show their shareholders that they tried. It is a ridiculous use of public resources, but the FTC didn't give any indication that is was a valid complaint. Facebook didn't make an argument, only an observation that the feature would hurt their revenue. Kind of like "by the way it would be nice if you found some impropriety in how they rolled this out, we aren't aware of one, but would be adversely affected whether its all above board or not, okay thats all we got moving on".

> If users are fine with it the impact shouldn’t be horrible.

Exactly. So when Apple gives users choice, and users are fine with it, this won't impact Facebook at all.

I don’t think Facebook has really any ground to stand on when the choice is being given to the user. AdTech has been saying forever that “people want personalized ads” to justify data collection. If they’re right then obviously there’s nothing to worry about.

Most annoyingly I actually thought I wanted personalized ads, but after giving Google the benefit of doubt for years after the DoubleClick acquisition it is clear to me they are hopeless: the ads mostly aren't targeted to me in any meaningful way.

Facebook on the other hand manages to get my attention with products that matches my interests and budget (software products, photography products etc. I even ended up buying a safety razor that I am very happy with and wouldn't have though about without seeing that ad.)

The irony is that Google should know quite a bit more about me than Facebook does but have been too busy showing me annoying or even insulting ads during the same time.

By the way, what would Apple lose in revenues if it blocked all ads outright, at least in apps where it has complete control of what it's allowed or denied?

Apps that have ad-supported business models would probably abandon the platform altogether. And then people won't buy a phone if they can't use Facebook and/or Instagram on it.

A lot and it'd likely kill large part of their ecosystem. Someone needs to produce apps and content inside them, and people don't like to pay for it.

So Facebook having a harder time manipulating people on Apple's devices gets government attention but users being unable to install Linux or Coreutils natively (or at least having to go through ridiculous crap to do it) doesn't?

Makes me think that the government might not be the people we should be asking to regulate Apple.

What business does FTC has with internet advertising?

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection is the governmental watchdog for consumer abuse from advertising and marketing (among many other concerns).

In case anyone is thinking the FTC is sticking its nose where it doesn't belong, the article doesn't illustrate that. It seems like the FTC basically came in and asked Apple "What's going on here?" All was apparently well when Apple doubled down on their position after that FTC meeting.

The title is a bit click-baitey.

The FTC’s principal purpose is consumer protection and preventing unfair/deceptive business practices. Facebook isn’t a consumer and Facebook’s principal business is antithetical to the FTC’s mission. So while they certainly have jurisdiction over advertising they really ought not be acting on behalf of facebook in any meaningful way. Even to the extent consumer interests align with facebooks (I’m skeptical) the appearance of impropriety by having this meeting far outweighs any potential consumer benefit.

They are in charge of regulating advertising in the US.

Thanks for quick to the point explanation.

They regulate it in the US.

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