Translating Facebook's latest 'Hard Questions' PR spin – The Reg edit

Zuck: Creepy data-harvesting was for YOUR own good

Zuckerberg photo Facebook

Stop us if you've heard this one before: Facebook is trying to 'set the record straight' after it was once again caught flogging the ability to violate the privacy of its users.

The social network wheeled out its VP of Ads to try and explain away the more disturbing details to emerge in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The social network tries to again explain who all the info it harvests it put into play in a set of Q&As it both asks and answers. To help clarify the document, El Reg is going to provide some translation.

Bold are the words of Rob Goldman, vice president of ads. Italics are the Reg translation.

Our product is social media – the ability to connect with the people that matter to you, wherever they are in the world. It’s the same with a free search engine, website or newspaper. The core product is reading the news or finding information – and the ads exist to fund that experience.

You are not our product. Rather, everything you do is our product.

This is, of course, Facebook's attempt to break out of the adage that "if you don't know what the product is, then you are the product." This is, of course, a critical point for Facebook to make if it doesn't want to admit that, yes, it traffics in personal information.

Rather, Facebook says it just sells ad space. Leaving out that the placement of that ad space gets determined by… you guessed it: All that personal data it collects.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at the 2015 F8 conference

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We sell advertisers space on Facebook – much like TV or radio or newspapers do. We don’t sell your information. When an advertiser runs a campaign on Facebook, we share reports about the performance of their ad campaign. We could, for example, tell an advertiser that more men than women responded to their ad, and that most people clicked on the ad from their phone.

We're no worse than tv ads! Who, by the way, we're way more effective and better at targeting than, because of all that data we collect (but don't sell!)

And here we get to the meat of the issue. Facebook on one hand wants to tell everyone its ad policies and practices are no different from your average TV or radio program, while also touting how much better the social network is at ad placement.

A quick look through the "business success stories" Facebook touts on its site for potential advertisers refers to how much better-targeted and effective Facebook's ads are than other forms of media. This, it is said, is due to the ability by Facebook to offer extremely targeted ads towards specific audiences thanks to… you guessed it...data!

As people use Facebook, they share information and content – whether it’s liking a post, sharing a photo or updating their profile. We use this information to give you a better service. For example, we can show you photos from your closest friends at the top of your News Feed, or show you articles about issues that matter most to you, or suggest groups that you might want to join.

Data also helps us show you better and more relevant ads. And it lets advertisers reach the right people, including millions of small businesses and non-profits who rely on Facebook every day to reach people that might be interested in their product or cause. Data lets a local coffee shop survive and grow amid larger competitors by showing ads to customers in its area. And it lets a non-profit promote a diabetes fundraiser to those interested in the cause.

You want all the cool stuff we give you for free on this site? Quit complaining about all the data we slurp. Besides, who doesn't want extremely targeted ads specifically designed to manipulate them right at that moment?

Here Facebook tries to make the case that, because sometimes that collected data is used for things we don't find utterly repulsive, it's not that bad. Sure, letting Cambridge Anal. get detailed information on 87 million of our customers in order to know precisely whose insecurities they could play on to tip the outcome of an election wasn't a good look, but we also used it to fight diabetes, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

You can’t opt out of ads altogether because ads are what keep Facebook free, but you do have different options to control how your data can and can’t be used to show you ads. They’re all found in ad preferences.”

Mark didn't get to be a billionaire by giving this stuff away, chumps. Don't like it? Leave.

This is the unpleasant truth of the matter. Facebook says that, when it comes down to it, all of this personal information was willfully handed over by its customers, and they're right. All of the Cambridge Anal. profiles were created with information people willingly gave to Facebook and, whether they knew it or not, allowed the company to share with others.

We are at a point where people now know how closely their activity is being recorded and sold, and Facebook acknowledges it can't stop doing that and continue being a $480bn company, and frankly your data is worth more to them than any reasonable subscription plan. If you want the Facebook features, the data harvesting and manipulative ad targeting must go on.

So, it's going to come down to a simple choice: is the service worth the cost? ®




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