Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Two Things About Zuckerberg's Testimony

Thing One

Several times (to the best of my recollection) during yesterday's Senate hearings, Senators asked Mark Zuckerberg questions pertaining to how Facebook sells user data to advertisers.

Each time, Zuckerberg was very careful to include in his answer a claim that Facebook doesn't sell user data to advertisers.

Which, unless Facebook has been lying all along, to everyone, about everything, is true.

Facebook sells targeted advertising. An advertiser tells Facebook "I want to reach males in Maine who are interested in magic," and Facebook shows that advertiser's ads to (as best it can tell from the user data it gathers) males in Maine who are interested in magic.

Facebook does not send the advertiser a list of people and their information.  "Mike in Mapleton is interested in magic, and so is Malachi in Mars Hill, and Matthew in Mattawamkeag ..." Facebook just shows the ads to Mike and Malachi and Matthew.

Thing Two

Several Senators seemed genuinely confused by the claim above versus the fact that Cambridge Analytica had a bunch of data concerning Facebook users. They couldn't quite get their head around the idea that Cambridge Analytica could get Facebook user data due to the actions of anyone or anything other than Facebook. And Zuckerberg kept not explaining it very well. I was yelling at the live feed:


Which is exactly what happened. There was an app. Facebook users saw the app, downloaded the app, installed/opened the app, and upon the app's request gave the app permission to access their Facebook data.

It appears that the app developer violated Facebook's guidelines pertaining to how much data could be taken and/or how it could be used and/or whether or not (and if so for how long) it could be retained. 

And perhaps Facebook didn't respond quickly or strongly enough. One complaint, which seems just a little bit over the top to me, was that Facebook didn't notify users immediately that data those users had given to someone other than Facebook might have been misused by someone other than Facebook.

None of the above is intended as a "defense" of Facebook, by the way. It's just that the Senators who were so eager to grill Zuckerberg about Facebook seemed woefully unable to grasp even the basics of what they were asking about.

Facebook's business model isn't about selling your data to advertisers. It's about selling your eyeballs to advertisers. Your data is just what they use to sell particular pairs of eyeballs to particular advertisers so that the advertisers are reaching the potential customers they want to reach instead of, say, paying to show air conditioner ads to residents of the Arctic Circle.

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