#164: Facebook, your friendly local ad network
Facebook visits Congress, but gets off fairly easy.


Facebook's moment of truth

After it was revealed that Facebook might not treat your data with care, the company found itself on the back foot for weeks – reacting to the news escalating only to find itself confronted with more press pressure.

For Facebook, it's the opposite of what it is accustomed to. Over most of the company's lifetime, it's dealt with a technology press that's generally friendly and willing to co-operate in return for favorable coverage, but that changed.

To turn the narrative around, Mark Zuckerberg decided to break tradition and willingly face governors for questioning, offering an apology in person. It was hard to miss in the news this week, but Zuckerberg faced Congress and a special investigation panel this week over the space of two days.

The first day started out a terse affair — Zuckerberg was clearly uncomfortable and using coping techniques to deal with initial nerves — quickly became fairly comfortable for the CEO after just a few hours, as the questions were clearly softballs.

Senators spent most of the session confused about Facebook's business model and how data collection actually fundamentally works, rather than asking revealing questions. One asked Zuckerberg "how Facebook plans to make money if it doesn't charge for its services" which the CEO responded to with a bemused "well senator.... we run ads!"

The second day of questioning, however, was not so laid back: Senators tore into Facebook and asked pointed questions about how the company actually operates, trying to understand the extent of data collection and what happens with that information.

Senators asked repeatedly how Facebook collects data from people, and whether or not it builds profiles on people who don't use Facebook — which it certainly does, but Zuckerberg was cagey to detail to what extent.

These types of profiles are called shadow profiles and are how the company knows so much about you already if you sign up as a fresh user in 2018. Using tools from Facebook, like its "tracking pixel" and those sharing buttons, embedded by website creators across the web, Facebook builds up a profile of your travels even if it doesn't entirely know who you are yet.

Some part of how this works was revealed by Kashmir Hill for Gizmodo last year when she reported about how well the company recommended friends and even distant relatives to her when signing up for Facebook — even without contact access at all.

Zuckerberg was unable to answer how much data is collected on logged-out users, but also was quick to say that people could opt out of ad targeting... which would require creating a Facebook profile.

Well trained, Zuckerberg continually steered these questions back to privacy controls, repeatedly saying that Facebook offers controls to users to handle who sees what. It was a smart move, because it de-emphasized the real question: what about data Facebook has but only the company is able to see that it's either purchased, inferred or gathered from the wider internet. Senators struggled to grasp this problem as a result.

Perhaps the best question of both hearings came from Senator Lindsey Graham, who prodded Zuckerberg to name his biggest competitor, which he was unable to do. Pushing further, he asked “If I buy a Ford, and it doesn’t work well and I don’t like it, I can buy a Chevy. If I’m upset with Facebook, what’s the equivalent product I can go sign up for?” 

As Zuckerberg hesitated, Graham interrupted and asked "You don't feel like you have a monopoly?" Which the CEO quickly responded to by saying "It certainly doesn't feel that way to me" — followed by the room breaking into awkward, all-revealing laughter. 

Senators don't appear to grasp how to regulate Facebook, or whether they should actually do so. That said, a proposal that landed on Friday that would require clearer terms of service, more data controls, remedies for data breaches and more — but if the line of questioning is any indication, it remains unclear if there's any wider appetite for regulation in the first place.

🌎 Read a recap on The Intercept

Other news

🍎 Apple threatens leakers with arrest

💌 Google's total overhaul of Gmail leaks

🤖 Android OEMs might be lying about security patches

🚲 Uber acquires bike sharing company to go all-in on alternative transport


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Your pretty face is going to sell

An amazing piece from the San Francisco MOMA blog looking at the trend of "YouTube Face" on the video site. YouTube Face is exaggerated, ridiculous expressions that are overreactions to the content of the video, usually specifically captured to make the thumbnail more clickable. 

It's clickbait, in human form.

🌎 Read on MOMA

Other great reads

Productivity, and some tips about how to find it (Sam Altman)

Ship exhausts are making oceanic thunderstorms more intense (Pys.org)

Are remote teams good or bad? The answer is: yes (Rebecca Downes)


"Amazing how people suddenly realize they don’t own their data on Facebook. Let’s see how they react when they find out they dont own the money in their bank accounts either!"



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Cushion does invoicing, time tracking and project management, but also includes fantastic time estimation and forecasting tools so you actually know what's going on with your business. It's legitimately fantastic, and if you do freelance work I highly recommend it.

🌎 Cushion


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#164: Facebook, your friendly local ad network