Facebook’s Adgate

The thing is…I’m still not wrong.

It started here.

The thing is, I’m the only voice in this conversation who doesn’t have an incentive to slant it. Even journalists with tremendous integrity — they’ll say that I’m at least somewhat wrong on this. They have to sow some doubt. That’s their move here. That’s all it takes.

All I’m doing is making sure there is at least one person talking to this industry and taking it to task, because otherwise there won’t be any voices completely independent from the issues being heard. In this very special instance, the journalist confronts the conflict of interest that they are trying to cover the business model that supplies their own income. They’re starting to disclose this in relevant articles, as we see first in USAToday.

But most journalists have also bought into the notion that behavioral advertising is legitmate, defensible, even desirable. It literally helps pay their bills. How much can they question it? That’s like me trying to discuss the student loan bubble. I’m professionally conflicted on that subject. But not this one.

These polls aren’t scientific at all. But like the Twitter activty itself, it’s directional evidence that I’m not wrong.

Experts Confounded, Journalists Conflicted

The thing is…me being confused on this doesn’t look good for Facebook. If I can’t easily figure this stuff out and tech reporters exert new mental muscles figuring this out, and make of point of saying so in their articles, then this new setting is “too opaque and difficult to understand.”

If we can’t understand it, then what’s going on here?

Facebook is looking good in the articles where they have been reached for comment, but not so great in the pieces where they haven’t been granted an opportunity to spin it: That ‘this is simple, everything is fine.’ But the journalists so far haven’t yet come close to “going there.”

Investigative reporting on the broken privacy policy link hasn’t yet made it into the articles. This is a crucial link in this whole debate, still being ignored, the “Learn more” and “control” links on the Facebook Data Policy have been broken for months. It is still not fixed as I file this post, even as this controversy only stirs wider, very publicly in the media. No one has told me otherwise. I don’t get it.

Still. Not. Fixed. unreal.

Facebook’s privacy policy is literally still broken. Specifically, the part where you’re expected to read the fine print on all of this stuff. This company is under a twenty-year FTC consent decree for privacy violations.

We are letting them get away with it.

How can this be legal?

This can’t be legal in the EU? Can it?

The company isn’t even providing the most basic tools for its users to Learn More about its admittedly complex ad policies. You can’t read about it on your iPhone.

So I don’t misunderstand, I am not confused, and I’m still on the right side of this issue.

All I’m doing is calling it like I’m seeing it and being a lone, loud voice of the consumer. But there’s a chorus backing me up on my Twitter. But not so much on my Facebook. Wonder why?


A new deal on data. We’re all-in or we’re out.

No more new undisclosed controls.

We do not have to put up with this. We just have to decide not to.

No more broken links in the privacy policy.

No more surprises.

We demand support of the Do Not Track standard.

We admire @Twitter, Medium, @Pinterest, @Hulu, and @Adzerk for working on supporting it.

We question why @Facebook and @Google refuse to.

We will adopt and support tools that help enforce it.

It’s what we want.

We’ll tell you how we want relevant ads from now on.

You do not know who we are, better than we do.

You do not know what we want.

You insult our humanity by thinking we are anything but unpredictable and irrational animals. And yet you tag us and sort us like livestock, doling out feeds. And it’s worth pennies. It’s subprime, junk mixed in with the AAA, fraud-filled, out-of-control and has caused injury to individuals and society as a whole.

We’re talking about it now.

The Real Ad Choices

The time has come for us to set the terms of our own lives, our own identities and recapture them, before two companies mostly own them completely.

Privacy is not a policy to ignore. It’s you.

This is a war of words over what privacy even means. They want us to use their words. They don’t like the way we describe it.

What’s the formula for calculating your ad control settings per Facebook’s policy again?


Are you setting aside some leisure time to go through your AdChoices this weekend?


Either I’m in or I’m out. No more negotiation.

One opt-out once, or none. Otherwise, we block.

That makes everything different.

It’s the idea that they can dictate our lives with subtle, obtuse distinctions (between 1st and 3rd party data, to be precise) or the claim that obscuring our PII (Personally Identifible Informtion) is even sufficent protection — This is what is holding up this house of cards right now. Facebook is becoming the 1st party here, and killing off the 3rd parties, slowly but surely.

If this embed is blocked because you have Do Not Track enabled, then you are seeing how we solve this.

In the process of consolidating the market, they will more and more fully own everyone’s everything. Combine Google and that’s not really an exaggeration. I’m just pointing that out. Many voices will vociferously defend these companies and their practices against what I’m saying. Most of those voices will be stockholders but you’d have to violate their privacy to find out for sure. We should ask them.

Data Rights is a Political Movement

We can demand more control of our data rights. We should take back our data while we still have the last fighting chance to do anything about it. They have to offer it to us if a broad-based data rights movement forms beyond government, law, media, and academia. World-changing movements have sprung from between media, academia, and activism before. It can again.

The EU and US are not harmonized on the issue of data privacy. In fact, they use their own words to assert their voice. They call it data protection instead. They get it better than we do.

Just keep talking about it, keep debating it among your friends (but not on Facebook).

Do you check your Facebook ad settings? Do you think you know what they know about you? Do you think it affects your life in any ways? What about unexpected ways, the unintended consequences and conspiracies? Did you hear about…

Like the one about how Facebook is now used for politics in ways that could radically reshape politics as we know it while building a new commercial business for itself that swallows up the political advertising market along with everything else. Campaigns now mobilize armies and conduct voter surveillance with Facebook and mobile ads. Adtech is now used to track people at polling stations reading content on their smartphones with the ads. Data protection is political issue that affects all of our lives.

The reaction to this is adblocking that makes the fragile journalistic practice all the more imperiled. Everything is at stake here. Everything is connected to this. This is what Facebook and Google is built upon — this idea, these two empires don’t want us to talk about it.

These edifices are built upon their words. So all I’m asking is that we continue to use our words, our ways of describing the situation, and not totally give in to their commercial vocabularies, because their words not only limit the discourse, they frame it.

We can see that the framing of advertising privacy with words shapes how people perceive them and that’s why they insist on controlling the words, the terms. It also why they change those interpretations, at any time, without warning or notice, and without any regard to users and their data rights.

They prefer to call it “interest-based” advertising so it sounds like we requested it. But we didn’t and even if you repeatedly demonstrate a lack of interest in “interest-based” they’ll ignore those signals when they add new settings.

That’s why they all say I’m confused or wrong. Because they don’t like my words to describe the situation. I opted out. Facebook put me back on and took two years to quietly let me know so I could re-opt, again. This isn’t acceptable.

When we probe the premise that targeted ads are even necessary or desired against the more honest and ethical articulation that involves privacy-positive language, it reveals the great contradiction and myth of targeted advertising.

Ad targeting is controversial because it is. They wouldn’t even use the words “ad targeting” to describe it. They use other terms. So decide for yourself. Use your own words. Own your own identity.

Relevant Student Projects

Here are some bonus videos of relevant student work at Parsons School of Design.

Opt-Out by Lama Shehahdeh
Data X and Data Selfie NYC Media Lab Combine Pitch by Hang Do Thi Duc and Regina Flores
Dataselfie.it teaser by Hang Do Thi Duc
Leaving Facebook by Bobby Lin is a short doc about deleting your Facebook account.

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