- why is my battery dead!?
- why is my timeline so messed up!?
- why is my private post viewable by everyone on the internet!?
- why do these these security settings keep changing!?
- why is the mobile app nearly 1/2 a GB!?
My most compelling reason to use Facebook is communication with my immediate and extended family because it is their preferred method vs. the telephone.
The Test Environment
- My iPhone
- My wife’s iPhone (no social media apps or accounts)
- Samsung TV (audio features disabled)
The system software and applications:
- Facebook mobile app – installed on user’s device, placed on a table between user and another during conversation.
- Facebook platform – highly available processing and storage tier
- Facebook web app – accessed via laptop, in a different room on a different floor the house.
The user (himself):
- software engineer with 20+ years experience verifying systems and applications using automation
- one-time analytics dashboard developer for presenting insights into content targeting effectiveness.
- one-time commercial broadcast radio voice-over artist for radio advertisements and promotions.
- long-time meta-forward-observer and mostly hater of ALL advertising (except the 0.001% that are actually well written or funny).
- curious, data-driven do-gooder, snark
- company name was not a ‘dictionary’ term found in regular or common speech.
- company name was a mashup of two words (likely for distinction and because the web domain was available for their digital marketing).
- company name was easily distinguishable from other common phrases my wife had been using during her course of study.
- company name was never once previously mentioned in our private conversations
- does not have radio or television advertisements broadcast in my area (or on any streaming services we use)
- markets to clinicians
- I have a Facebook account
- wife has never had a FB account
- wife is not in my interest graph
- company sells products I have zero interest in and never sought
- my wife spoke aloud a unique word (signal input)
- in a conversation with my phone present (sensor)
- which had Facebook software installed (platform client)
- the word was never previously spoken or searched for (high cardinality, not in my graph)
- platform matched advertiser keyword with my input (signal processing)
- platform served me an ad via desktop web browser (web application client).
Caveat: I could be wrong. I have not done the forensic analysis of the code or the devices. I am writing this based on my many years of experience finding and isolating system behaviors like this one I observed. I’m also relying on numerous sources of published statements and research material to support parts of my claim.
“We collect information from or about the computers, phones, or other devices where you install or access our Services, depending on the permissions you’ve granted. We may associate the information we collect from your different devices, which helps us provide consistent Services across your devices.”
Even though the professor’s claims (links above) have been debunked, Facebook admits it did but now “only listens for 15 seconds while you are posting.”
So why continue writing this article?
- I was not posting during my conversation with my wife (phone was not in my hand)
- I intentionally removed FB app access to my device’s microphone (long before this incident)
- I am also pretty darn sure I was logged out of the app.
Additionally, it’s possible to “listen” to audio within proximity using other device sensors besides the microphone.
As I mentioned above, digital advertising is the primary revenue engine on the internet – you (unwittingly) give up your privacy to post cat pics and they return the favor by trying to sell you Jucero and artisanal mouthwash…and you get none of the proceeds for having also providing your attention span. Of course there is a subscription revenue engine too but content “firewalls” have proven to be daunting to implement in a way that is both usable and converts users into subscribers.
To start simple, eMarketer estimates that Facebook’s platform will generate $36 billion in net digital ad revenue in 2017, up 35% from last year, giving it the second largest share of the global online ad market with 16.2%, behind Google’s 33% (double FB’s take).
High volume ad targeting platforms like Facebook and Google are not unlike the scheme in Superman 3 when Richard Pryor’s lovable character hack’s his employer’s mainframe to collect the salami-slices of a rounding down routine on everyone’s paycheck.
- Digital (internet)
- 1704 – Print first ad was 313 years ago
- 1922 – Radio first ad was 95 years ago,
- 1941 – Television first ad was 76 years ago
- 1994 – Digital first ad was less than 25 years ago
Here is the very first digital ad. Looking at the timeline, from an ad spend perspective, digital is experiencing warp speed growth over the other mediums, but that’s not the half of it. Tech has also convinced advertisers to trust them with delivering their ads to the right, best and most important eyeballs.
There is additional benefit to keeping the content cheap but that might affect each business differently.
The scale of ad spending is massive.
And who is dominating in their ability to not only receive those dollars but make sure advertising feel they are well spent? Google and Facebook. They are spending billions in research and development of not only the technologies they currently employ but also new technologies that don’t even have a market developed for them yet (like VR) so they can be there when our eyeballs and attention spans show up.
October Surprise Addendum!
- For those who think my 401k is based entirely on tin foil futures (it’s not), I have discovered there are potentially other factors that might have influenced how I got targeted with an ad for a company and product and interest completely outside of my graph, but, those other factors indicate methods that are flawed and to be honest, do not offer an alternative explanation. That said, here’s an article from WAPO describing the litany of advertising targeting options FB provides advertisers: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/08/19/98-personal-data-points-that-facebook-uses-to-target-ads-to-you/?utm_term=.1081951348b0
- FB lives and dies by it’s algorithms and that became crystal clear in the headlines arriving after my blog post – unfortunately the story is more serious and potentially tragic for folks who believe in democracy. The ad targeting story is only getting started and will uncover not just the “evil” things done to poor unassuming voters in WI and MI (and 21 other states at last count), it will also uncover….features! Yes, features within FB’s advertising system. This “narrative” is undoubtedly important to Americans and supporters of free elections and the rule of law around the globe, but, what you are going to learn will be very small facts: some really smart folks outside of USA used features (aka algorithms) within FB’s advertising system to target US voters in the same way as Zappos and Zazzle target you with ads for shoes and t-shirts – the only difference is the motive and what is at stake (sales vs votes). But hey, if it takes some international intrigue to get my point across, I won’t complain (pass the popcorn).
- As a subtext, here’s a PBS radio broadcast about how FB ads allow users to target anti-semitic groups (who by the way are terrible): http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/facebook-allow-advertisers-target-anti-semitic-groups/. The investigative reporter in this broadcast describes how easy it was and clearly how little oversight there is in this system, revealing examples of techniques employed by forces outside of the US to influence the 2016 campaign. Hey, if an investigative journalist can design a campaign to reach hate groups, it’s not a stretch to see how an adversarial nation-state can automate advertising campaigns that mix-in stolen PII to influence the narratives users saw leading up to the election.
- I recently did some more digging around into my FB settings recently and discovered a ton of crap in the interests and ads sections – interests and corporations/companies I had never interacted with or liked – there were some real head scratchers too. Sadly, what I found does not correlate to this story much (I didn’t find the company who targeted me in the list, but, I also didn’t find any thing even similar, leaving me to believe my findings above). TL;DR: it was just more WTF stuff that FB heaved onto my interest graph without actually getting a signal from me directly. On that note, I strongly suggest you check out your settings frequently to ensure there is no monkey business going on – might want to add a reminder in your calendar to do so once every 3 months.
- I still believe my phone was used to pick up audio to target me with that ad and despite multiple statements and lawsuits in which FB claims this is not happening, there is plenty of evidence to more than suggest (but in fact determine) that if they aren’t doing so any longer, they absolutely did at one time use microphones in your vicinity to target you with ads.
- Belgian Data Privacy Watch Dogs declare in court that Facebook is snooping on users, including people who don’t have Facebook accounts: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-12/facebook-is-watching-you-belgian-privacy-agency-warns-in-court