back to article Facebook takes bold stance on privacy – of its ads: Independent transparency research blocked

Facebook, which has repeatedly touted its transparency efforts, on Tuesday disabled the accounts of independent ad transparency researchers. The targeted ad biz said it did so in the name of privacy, a source of persistent scandal for the corporation. Facebook said it disabled the accounts, apps, Pages, and platform access for …

  1. MajorDoubt
    Happy

    Is anyone surprised???

    Corporate mentality, will be the death nail for all humanity. No escape from stupid, cause no one cares. Enjoy your distorted sense of reality.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Is anyone surprised???

      I think all business models where a consumer is a product should be outlawed.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Is anyone surprised???

      Pedantry alert - it's "death knell", meaning the ringing of church bells to mark a death.

      1. Tim99 Silver badge

        Re: Is anyone surprised???

        True, but nail would be good too: "door"/"coffin”?

        1. Irongut Silver badge

          Re: Is anyone surprised???

          No, that's a different idiom.

  2. DS999 Silver badge

    I'm torn on this

    Assuming Facebook's claims that it is collecting information about people who did not consent to install this plug in are true, then they were right to cut off access. If NYU's claim is true that it isn't collecting any personal information then Facebook is ass covering.

    After the Cambridge Analytica thing I'd rather have Facebook err on the side of caution, lest another bad actor claiming to do a "study" use it to surreptitiously collect the personal friend from profiles of "friends" who those who installed the plug in, and did not consent to have their information collected.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: I'm torn on this

      I had been torn on Facebook, on the basis that people should generally be allowed to say what they like to each other. But this decides me: I'm definitely against them.

      My proposal, which they haven't even bothered to reject, was that every paid ad should be freely available to anyone who could type in the correct search (or targeting) terms to find it, together with basic info such as how many times it was served over what period. That's what I would call transparency without compromising privacy.

      1. RegGuy1 Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: I'm torn on this

        But if they have transparency how do they get you to vote for brexit, or Trump?

        Remember the guys that want to fool the ignorant have shed loads of money. Sweet little FB just wants some of that massive pile of cash. Is that wrong?

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: I'm torn on this

          >>>how do they get you to vote for <<<

          FB doesn't care who/what you vote for, they just want to KNOW who/what/where your interests are. They really don't care about you or your politics in the slightest as long as you're online they can sell your eyes.

          Any social fallout1 caused doesn't interest them either beyond it's ability to keep eyes on screen and extreme events attract more eyes.

          The only thing that might worry FB is goverments imposing solid transparency & accountability rules onto them, but as they'll have so many politicos dirty secrets on file2 they're probably safe.

          1Intolerance, abuse, threats, toppling statues, violence, storming the capital etc.

          2J.E.Hoover or the Stasi could only dream.

          1. macjules Silver badge

            Re: I'm torn on this

            Having someone's dirty secrets on file worked wonders for Jeffrey Epstein ..

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: I'm torn on this

      I am more interested why some "independent transparency research" is checking up on Facebook and not the police or a three letter agency?

      I mean, surely when a small business done something bad they would have people in suits rummaging through the infrastructure, so...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm torn on this

        "I am more interested why some "independent transparency research" is checking up on Facebook and not the police or a three letter agency?"

        Or a four letter one - FB and Zuk wouldn't stand a chance if Gibbs was leading it :)

  3. Cragganmore

    Delete Facebook = happiness

    Never regretted binning FB about 5 years ago. Close friends use Telegram, everyone else it was just either voyeurism or bragging (when did you ever put that photo up of your kids' melt-down!). I hugely objected to how extensive, invasive, and opaque the FB android App was on my phone. Just need more folk to break their addiction!

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Delete Facebook = happiness

      You may have deleted "your data" from Facebook but you probably didn't delete "their data" about you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Delete Facebook = happiness

        And what about all the data collected about non-members.

        How can you object and opt out of FB's data collection unless you sign up with them?

        Yes you can install all kinds of blockers to try and prevent them tracking you, but the buggers are so creative. I once found myself deleting a cookie that, from the host name, was clearly there to reattach me to a Yahoo ID

  4. HildyJ Silver badge
    FAIL

    Zuck being Zuck

    FecesBook has negative credibility.

    Zuck knew exactly what he was doing and we know exactly why he did it.

    The fact that he manufactured an excuse doesn't excuse him.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If only Whatsapp didn't have such dominance over global communication, it would be easy to say something like "just leave Facebook".

    I can only hope that, as the core FB properties wither, their efforts to monetise Whatsapp will kill it too.

    (I don't have an account with any of FB's outlets).

    1. Irongut Silver badge

      I have never used Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Twitter. Contrary to popular opinion, they are not required for modern life.

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Unfortunately there are a lot of organisations that have gone out of their way to be difficult to reach any other way. It's not possible to avoid all of them without significantly reducing your consumer choice - the tipping point is fast approaching when they will be required for all practical purposes and once that arrives the pain of unwinding it all will be a regulatory step too far. FB just need to hold off those pesky investigations a bit longer and they'll be untouchable.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          There's a good chance we're already there. Leaving Whatsapp was actually pretty hard, especially due to the way that Whatsapp handles your account deletion. Even after deleting your account, people that have already sent you a Whatsapp message have almost no way to know that you no longer have an account. The only indication is that the messages never get "double ticked". Also, deleting your account will also put a "xxx has left the group' in every group you were still a member of. Seems a totally ass-backwards way to do things, assuming that Whatsapp are even trying to do the right thing for people leaving the service.

          Saying that, I'm out. I'm doing my bit. As I already said (and I'm not so sure why it was so unpopular), Whatsapp is currently so fantastic because it's currently a monetisation-free way to get text and video chat with anyone in the world. Obviously that status quo cannot be maintained, and I'm pretty sure that FB will need to start doing something about that in the very near future.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Offspring - who up until now has not been on social media other than a small Snapchat group - was told by the owner of the place where they are doing some summer work that without Whatsapp no work would be sent their way. This owner gets temp staff by sending out a message asking who is free this morning and giving the job to the first reply.

          1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

            Burner phone. Cheapest old Android on ebay, Giffgaff sim. Fresh Google account, no contacts in phone.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Toyed with that idea - would probably have used Smarty rather than GiffGaff - but a bit impractical to carry two phones and additional £6/mo grates. Phone has two SIM slots but only one can be used for data at a time and swapping is manual - you can't say, this app uses this SIM, that app uses the other. Already has apkpure (?) installed (no Google account, no Play store) so Snapchat will update more easily (updates break backwards compatibility and are tedious to do by downloading APKs) so installed Whatsapp from there and simply denied it access to anything. Intends to delete it when temp job finishes.

        3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          It's not possible to avoid all of them without significantly reducing your consumer choice

          This may be true for you, and for many other people; I haven't seen any methodologically-sound research on the subject. But I have never contacted any company by Facebook, and while I've used it on a couple of occasions to respond to meeting announcements for local organizations, I could easily do without that.

          I haven't read Twitter in years and I've never posted anything to it. I've never even had an Instagram or WhatsApp account.

          I haven't "reduc[ed my] consumer choice" in any way I can discern. My refusal to use social media has had precisely no effect on how I interact with businesses or my ability to do so, and has had minimal effect on how I interact with organizations and individuals.

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Whatsapp is used by many businesses and managers to distribute very important information, such as overtime and zero-hours shift availability.

            People like you and I aren't employed that way, but many are, and disabling Whatsapp would cost them hundreds of pounds in lost earnings because they'd miss out on those working hours.

            Twitter and Facebook have become the only way of contacting several organisations, and it's not always apparent before you need to query something or make a complaint.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              I'm not sure why comments complaining about the rise of Whatsapp to become the status quo for communication are so unpopular on El Reg, but there we go. Sometimes IDK why I fight these things, when practically everyone else is happy to get on the tech treadmill for their every need.

      2. WhereAmI?

        +1 on that. I know I've said this before but it was a long time ago: the one time I had to use Faecesbook was because the information I wanted quite simply wasn't available anywhere else. To access that shithole I built a VM master that was loaded with as many anti-Facebook plugins as I could find. I then cloned it and logged in. I *never* went outside Facebook. When finished, the VM was destroyed. next time I looged on it was with a new clone.

        And a shedload of false account details of course.

      3. Winkypop Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Don’t use, don’t need

        I’ve never had a case where I’ve missed anything of value by NOT having access to FB, WhatsApp, et al.

        Like most people, I use the net a lot. I can attest to the fact that these parasitical (ad) companies may be very successfully avoided IRL. As they say, don’t feed the trolls.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > The Ad Observer extension, he said, isn't collecting personal information about Facebook users. It's collecting information about ads that are meant to be shown publicly.

    This is interesting, isn't it?

    So, to re-phrase: ads are implicitly interwoven with personal information (and vice versa). Therefore de-coupling the two actually isn't actual possible. Governments and regulators (and the Ad Observor apparently) still live in this quaint old world where ads are something on a bill board at the side of the road or a newspaper. This is 2021. Your personal information IS ads and ads ARE your personal info. Facebook/Google figured this out 10+ years ago.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      I am still amazed that Ads are largely unregulated. What's going to happen if you release an ad that is going to slurp battery like a thirsty pig? And then publishers plaster dozens ads like that on a website?

      How much energy is this using globally?

      In public spaces in real life often you also have regulations that you cannot display tasteless banners and other signs that look out of place or make it difficult to read road signs and so on.

      Similar regulation should be brought in to the web.

      I personally think that AdSense, Facebook Ads and similar services should be outlawed. They don't add any value and incentivise those companies to collect as much data as possible which creates ill incentives, privacy issues, scams and who knows what else.

      If someone wants to advertise, they should contact website owners directly and Facebook should introduce premium accounts instead of Ads.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "release an ad that is going to slurp battery like a thirsty pig"

        I have a mobile game that uses a surprising amount of battery power. Firewalling it off decreases the battery usage considerably. Looking at the traffic, it's communicating with a dozen ad agencies on a minute-by-minute basis. So I think we're already there.

      2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Utterly unregulated ads is the American Way. As American culture is law across the entire planet therefore everyone on the planet must learn to appreciate being fed a neverending stream of lies and bullshit in the guise of advertising.

        Mobile game ads often advertise something entirely different to the pay-to-progress advert distribution platforms, "games", they are promoting. Complete lies such as "no adverts", "totally free" and yet if one checks the game being touted all the feedback comments relate to the number of adverts or the fact that after a short period a player effectively must pay.

        Or the adverts showing entirely different before and after people for supposedly wonder drug slimming aids?

        All fine in the land-of-the-lie but in more civilised parts of the planet such shameless lying is not permitted.

  7. bridgebuilder
    Headmaster

    Brain migration, please

    Can all the bright minds that are working on finding ever new ways of selling users(' data) to advertisers please switch their efforts towards creating business models that do NOT rely on ads?

    Thank you.

    1. Imhotep Silver badge

      Re: Brain migration, please

      That would require producing something people are willing to pay for.

      There is a mindset out there that everything on the internet should be free: music, movies and books under copyright, email, news sources, etc.

      But there is very little public objection to selling "you", because only a tiny minority of users understand what is going on and only a fraction of that group actually cares. And frankly, why should Facebook care about them? They're not Facebook users any way.

      The free news services geared to the general public aren't worth perusing. I've found four I think are worth subscribing to, and use a paid email service too. I think that probably makes me an outlier.

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Brain migration, please

        Nah, not really. I would not mind ads that are static pictures (moving stuff is so distracting), and that are shown related to page context (like ads for tools / diy stores when browsing a website about home improvement, or computer gear / geeky stuff on ElReg). Hell, I might even buy stuff if it sounds interesting (like a new mechanical keyboard, the IBM died, which is weird - how about ads for that stuff in / around related articles?).

        I am pretty sure that the "targetd" ads are an idiotic way of spending money. Examples continuously crop up in these discussion threads, like getting shown ads for washing machines after you bought one. If I had a company that had a product to advertise I would really prefer that this would not be the case. The message has to arrive at the brain dead marketing departments that spending your money on "targeted" ads (sprinkle it with "AI" and "ML" and other buzzwords) is a waste of ressources.

        Spending money on moving picture adss with sounds and a ton of java script will also mean that people become annoyed and either avoid your product or just block all ads. The popularity of ad blocking plugins (and NoScript and the like) should make advertising companies think about cause and effect. Unless ad flingers go back to less crazy (movies, sound, script language from forbidden sites, CPU hungry, etc.) ads I will block them and keep my bandwidth and computing ressources for myself, and my sanity (the few points I have left).

        1. Imhotep Silver badge

          Re: Brain migration, please

          Joe, your first paragraph pretty much sums up my attitudes too.If the ad is static, fine. Just like in the old newspapers and magazines, if I'm interested I'll look.

          As for the popups and animated ads - I never see them. I wonder how many others are blocking those? Are advertisers aware that it is happening and is it significant enough to capture an their attention?

          1. Alumoi Silver badge

            Re: Brain migration, please

            Yes, they are aware, but don't care. They get the money from their clients either way.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Brain migration, please

      it's not the ads that concern ME. It's the TRACKING and the SELLING OF PERSONAL INFORMATION and TARGETING ADS BASED ON ONLINE BEHAVIOR OUTSIDE OF "FaeceBan" that bothers me...

  8. ShadowSystems

    I envision a fix...

    Lok Zuck in a room with a Vogon & force him to listen to poetry for an hour. Pause the Vogon & ask Zuck if he would like to fix FB to no longer be the social shitstain it currently is or if he'd rather listen to another hour of poetry. Repeat until he either agrees to fix the site or turns into a gibbering, drooling, mindless puddle of goo on the floor. Then whomever takes the reins from Zuck is promptly locked in the room with the Vogon & given the same treatment. Eventually someone will decide they would rather fix things than be rendered into a marketing executive like all those that came before.

    Now all we need is to find a Vogon willing to read poetry to torture for torture's sake...

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: I envision a fix...

      Now all we need is to find a Vogon willing to read poetry to torture for torture's sake...

      Given that a Vogon wouldn’t lift a finger to save his own grandmother from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall, I don’t think you’d have any difficulty finding such a candidate.

      Just be sure to fill out the appropriate Poetry Reading Request forms, Volumes I-XIX, in triplicate, initialling all sub-clauses, and then wait in line for a week to submit them…

      1. The Boojum

        Re: I envision a fix...

        Plus of course the time taken to turn the forms in to peat and recycle them as firelighters.

      2. RegGuy1 Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: I envision a fix...

        Woo hoo! The Hitch Hikers' will never die.

        Rest in peace and sleep well, Mr Adams and thank you for your contribution to civilisation.

        Have a beer. (Well I'll have it for you, but I'll think about you as I drink it. :-)

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: I envision a fix...

      Personally, I find Vogon poetry superior to the content of Feacebook, based on my memory of the time some years back when my daughter showed me something on her Feacebook page.

      So considering the content that zuckerborg's creation produces and contains, I doubt Vogon poetry would have much effect on him, on the contrary, I imagine a Vogon viewing an hour of Feacebook would have the Vogon reduced to a vat of sludge before the hour was up.

    3. Marcelo Rodrigues
      Devil

      Re: I envision a fix...

      "Then whomever takes the reins from Zuck is promptly locked in the room with the Vogon & given the same treatment. Eventually someone will decide they would rather fix things than be rendered into a marketing executive like all those that came before."

      The way things are, it's easier to eat through all the Facebook's heirs - until You find one that LIKES Vogon poetry!

  9. Jim Whitaker
    Mushroom

    Advertisments?

    Are there still people viewing adverts on Facebook? Seriously. Have they never heard of ad blockers.

    1. Sleep deprived

      Re: Advertisments?

      Most people connect to Facebook through its app, where ad blockers cannot run. The few group pages I follow are read with Firefox and FB Purity, where I can block ads, suggested posts, etc.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Read "The ugly truth"

    The above book has sourced quality information from otherwise famously tightlipped facebook, and it's ugly.

    I don't think you'd continue to use FB after reading that.

  11. fidodogbreath Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Just say NO to Facebook

    Why do they get away with destroying privacy and society? Because we choose to let them, by using their product.

    We can't actually nuke them from orbit, but there's still a nuclear option:

    Delete your account.

    Run an ad blocker and/or PiHole to eliminate all of their comment / like / share / login with FB / tracking scripts / pixels / etc crap.

    If you have apps from any tentacle of FB on any of your devices, delete them.

    I've done the above, for both FB and Google -- to the point of switching from Android to iPhone specifically to escape Google's panopticon ecosystem.

    I do not miss either of them. They are not nearly as necessary or vital as they would like us to believe.

  12. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

    Surveillance-based Advertising

    I will always use this term instead of "Targeted Advertising". We all should make a point of using this phrase. Perhaps then some of the non-technical will get it.

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