Posts tagged ‘privacy’


More lies: Instagram’s separate (and now possibly secret) set of ad preferences

02.09.2018

This post was originally going to be about Facebook lying. It still is, just not in the way originally conceived.
   Those who follow this blog know that, on Instagram, I get alcohol advertising. Alcohol is one of the categories you can restrict on Facebook. Instagram claims that it relies on your Facebook ad preferences to control what advertising you see. That is a lie, and it’s still a lie even as of today (with an ad for Johnnie Walker in my feed). I turned off alcohol advertising in Facebook ages ago, and it’s made no difference to what I see on Instagram.
   What it doesn’t tell you is that Instagram keeps its own set of advertising interests, which can be found at www.instagram.com/accounts/access_tool/ads_interests, but it’s only accessible on the web version, which no one ever really checks out. When I last checked on August 18, you could still see a snippet of these interests, and they are completely different to those that I have on Facebook (where I go in to delete my interests regularly, something which, I might add, I should actually not have to do since I opted out of interest-based advertising on Facebook, which means that Facebook should have no need to collect preferences, but I digress). You cannot edit your Instagram ad preferences. They are, like the Facebook ones, completely laughable and bear no resemblance to my real interests. Advertisers: caveat venditor.

   As of now, Instagram no longer lists ad interests for me, though those alcohol ads still show up.

   So, Instagram lies about Facebook ad preferences affecting your Instagram advertising, because they don’t.
   And as late as August 18, because Instagram kept its own set of preferences, it was lying about its reliance on Facebook ad preferences.
   And today, Instagram might still be lying because while it doesn’t show your preferences on Instagram any more, Facebook ad preferences still have no effect on Instagram advertising. As far as I can tell, even though the Instagram ad preference page is blank, it still relies on a separate set of preferences that is now secret and, as before, not editable.
   But we are talking Big Tech in Silicon Valley. Google lies, Facebook lies. You just have to remember that this is par for the course and there is no need to believe anything they say. Even in a year when Facebook is under fire, they continue to give ammo to its critics. This makes me very happy now that there is a body—the EU—that has the cohones to issue fines, something that its own country’s authorities are either too weak or too corrupt to do.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


In line with what I discovered in 2011: Google tracks your location even after opting out

16.08.2018

The Associated Press had an exclusive this week: Google does not obey your opt-out preferences.
   I could have told you that in 2011. Oh wait, I did. And I pointed out other instances where Google ignored your request to pause your history, continuing to track you either through its main site or its properties such as YouTube.
   This latest story related to Google tracking people’s movements on their Android phones.
   The AP found that Google lies: what it claims Location History does on its website is not what it actually does.
   In 2011, I proved that Google lied about its Ads Preferences Manager (no, it doesn’t use apostrophes): it said one thing on its website and did another. In 2014 and 2015 I showed Google lied about what it would do with your search histories.
   Instagram does that these days with its advertising preferences, saying you can control them via Facebook when, in fact, it stores another set altogether which you have no control over. If I get time I’ll post my proof. It makes you wonder if the same dishonest programmers are running things, or whether it’s part of Big Tech’s culture to lie.
   This is nothing new: they all lie, especially about unwanted surveillance, and have been doing so for a long time. It’s just that mainstream media are finally waking up to it.

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The porn blackmail scam—ignore it if you receive it

24.07.2018

I’m not saying I can’t be conned—because by my own admission, I have been—but sometimes when you’re very sure of your position, scammers’ lies don’t work.
   Here’s a fascinating one that came in today, a lot more aggressive than the usual request for helping someone move millions of dollars of bullion out of the country. I can imagine people getting sucked in to this, because I have a friend who really was filmed without his knowledge and then (unsuccessfully) blackmailed. I’m posting it in case others have received something similar.

From: Klemens Munger
To: [Redacted]
Subject: jack.yan – [redacted]
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2018 04:27:08 +0000

I am well aware [redacted] one of your passphrase. Lets get straight to the purpose. You may not know me and you’re probably thinking why you are getting this e mail? No one has paid me to investigate you. In fact, I setup a software on the X videos (pornography) website and guess what, you visited this website to have fun (you know what I mean). When you were watching video clips, your web browser initiated functioning as a Remote Desktop having a keylogger which gave me access to your display screen and also web camera. after that, my software program gathered every one of your contacts from your Messenger, FB, and email . And then I created a double-screen video. 1st part displays the video you were viewing (you’ve got a good taste haha . . .), and second part displays the view of your webcam, and its u. You have got a pair of choices. Lets analyze these solutions in details: Very first choice is to dismiss this e-mail. In such a case, I will send out your actual video to all of your contacts and visualize regarding the awkwardness that you receive. Keep in mind if you are in an affair, exactly how it will affect? Other alternative will be to pay me $7000. Let us describe it as a donation. In such a case, I most certainly will right away remove your video. You will keep daily life like this never happened and you will not hear back again from me. You’ll make the payment by Bitcoin (if you don’t know this, search for “how to buy bitcoin” in Google search engine). BTC Address to send to: 1AarwsrgvhQ5CNuhWGMjmv34yPQTXWEaxh [case SENSITIVE, copy and paste it] Should you are wondering about going to the cop, surely, this message cannot be traced back to me. I have covered my moves. I am not trying to ask you for a huge amount, I would like to be paid for. I have a unique pixel within this e-mail, and at this moment I know that you have read this email message. You have one day in order to make the payment. If I don’t get the BitCoins, I will certainly send your video recording to all of your contacts including close relatives, coworkers, etc. Nonetheless, if I receive the payment, I will erase the video immediately. If you want proof, reply with Yea and I will send out your video to your 13 contacts. It is a non-negotiable offer, that being said please don’t waste my personal time & yours by replying to this message.

   There’s plenty of evidence this is automated.
   Think carefully: if he knows this much about you, then why isn’t he addressing you by name?
   And I haven’t used that particular password for nearly 20 years, so there’s a chance he came across this through the hacking of a defunct website. I also seldom use the same password for different websites (there are a handful of exceptions).
   It’s also helpful that I haven’t ever committed a sex act in front of my computer, but I have a feeling that others might think this was a real threat given how many people visit porn sites daily.
   If this was genuine, as it was for a friend of mine, it would come with a screen shot of the video that he claims to have (and that was a two-part image as he claims, so it’s based on scams that have taken place).
   I won’t go into depth on why else I know this is bogus, although most of you who follow me regularly will be able to spot the scammer’s pretty obvious mistakes.
   And do you really think I only have 13 contacts? (Why is the number usually so low with these scams?)
   Finally, out of curiosity, since I take my privacy seriously, I checked to see if there was a tracking pixel. There wasn’t, at least not in the software I use.
   It’s a good idea to turn your images off when it comes to webmail (as they are on Zoho for me) in case future ones come with one. My email client filtered this as junk, as it surely is.

After I wrote the above post, I came across this page, where the scam is discussed. They only wanted $360–$600 a few months ago. The price has gone up, which suggests that it has worked. It appears that the defunct-password technique only surfaced this month.

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Posted in culture, internet, technology | 2 Comments »


If you thought Facebook wasn’t creepy enough

01.07.2018

How much creepier can Facebook get? How about a patent filing where signals hidden in TV broadcasts will activate the mic on your phone, the recording sent to Facebook?
   Facebook claims that it might want this patent, but it will never use this technology.
   A bit like how Facebook claims it wouldn’t kick drag kings and queens off its service, or how Facebook claims that you can set your advertising preferences, or how Facebook claims that you can turn off ad preference tracking, or how Facebook claims your computer has malware. Wake up, people, Facebook claims means Facebook lies. Cambridge Analytica has nothing on Facebook.

Oh, if you’re blind, then Facebook are arseholes, too. (Hat tip to Holly Jahangiri.)

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The end of US ’net neutrality: another step toward the corporate internet

11.06.2018

That’s it for ’net neutrality in the US. The FCC has changed the rules, so their ISPs can throttle certain sites’ traffic. They can conceivably charge more for Americans visiting certain websites, too. It’s not a most pessimistic scenario: ISPs have attempted this behaviour before.
   It’s another step in the corporations controlling the internet there. We already have Google biasing itself toward corporate players when it comes to news: never mind that you’re a plucky independent who broke the story, Google News will send that traffic to corporate media.
   The changes in the US will allow ISPs to act like cable providers. I reckon it could give them licence to monitor Americans’ traffic as well, including websites that they mightn’t want others to know they’re watching.
   As Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, puts it: ‘We’re talking about it being just a human right that my ability to communicate with people on the web, to go to websites I want without being spied on is really, really crucial.’
   Of course I have a vested interest in a fair and open internet. But everyone should. Without ’net neutrality, innovators will find it harder to get their creations into the public eye. Small businesses, in particular, will be hurt, because we can’t pay to be in the “fast lane” that ISPs will inevitably create for their favoured corporate partners. In the States, minority and rural communities will likely be hurt.
   And while some might delight that certain websites pushing political viewpoints at odds with their own could be throttled, they also have to remember that this can happen to websites that share their own views. If it’s an independent site, it’s likely that it will face limits.
   The companies that can afford to be in that “fast lane” have benefited from ’net neutrality themselves, but are now pulling the ladder up so others can’t climb it.
   It’s worth remembering that 80 per cent of Americans support ’net neutrality—they are, like us, a largely fair-minded people. However, the FCC is comprised of unelected officials. Their “representatives” in the House and Senate are unlikely, according to articles I’ve read, to support their citizens’ will.
   Here’s more on the subject, at Vox.
   Since China censors its internet, we now have two of the biggest countries online giving their residents a limited form of access to online resources.
   However, China might censor based on politics but its “Great Wall” won’t be as quick to block new websites that do some good in the world. Who knew? China might be better for small businesses trying to get a leg up than the United States.
   This means that real innovation, creations that can gain some prominence online, could take place outside the US where, hopefully, we won’t be subjected to similar corporate agenda. (Nevertheless, our own history, where left and right backed the controversial s. 92A of the Copyright Act, suggests our lawmakers can be malleable when money talks.)
   These innovations mightn’t catch the public’s imagination in quite the same way—the US has historically been important for getting them out there. Today, it got harder for those wonderful start-ups that I got to know over the years. Mix that with the US’s determination to put up trade barriers based on false beliefs about trade balances, we’re in for a less progressive (and I mean that in the vernacular, and not the political sense) ride. “The rest of the world” needs to pull together in this new reality and ensure their subjects still have a fair crack at doing well, breaking through certain parties’ desire to stunt human progress.
   Let Sir Tim have the last word, as he makes the case far more succinctly than I did above: ‘When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today’s world, companies can’t operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today [in April 2017] suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?’

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Posted in business, China, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


It’s not a rumour: longer Instagram videos are already here

08.06.2018

I see the media (led by the Murdoch Press) have been reporting that Instagram plans to let people upload videos of an hour long. It’s a ‘rumour’ at the moment, apparently.
   As those of you who follow this blog know, I’ve been able to upload videos exceeding one minute since April, and one theory that Justin Bgoni, who’s the bursar at my Alma Mater, St Mark’s Church School, advanced when I mentioned it to him was that I must be part of a trial.
   That makes perfect sense and it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone with a great financial mind like Justin’s would conclude this. He says: we’re in New Zealand, it’s a small country, and there are probably 10,000 people who have been given the capability in advance. Soon, he theorized weeks ago, Instagram will roll it out to the general public. I think he’s right.
   I’ve so far fielded two questions from strangers on how I do this, and I tell them the truth: I’ve just been able to, and I was as surprised as anyone else.
   I don’t claim to have ‘special super power’ like this user does—and when I visited his Instagram, he doesn’t have a single video over a minute, so goodness knows what he’s talking about. (Having said that, I do like a lot of his uploads.) If you’re uploading 10 one-minute videos into a single post, that doesn’t count: almost anyone can do that, and it doesn’t take special powers, just patience.
   There is a limit for me, however. I’ve attempted four times to upload a 9′3″ video to Instagram, and have failed each time, so we can conclude that that’s too long. However, I have managed 8′37″ as of today, so the present maximum length on Instagram must be between the two times.
   I haven’t discovered too much more since I last posted on this topic, other than enjoying the freedom of having the greater length. (Instagram’s probably noted that, which is why the rumours have begun surfacing.) Engagement is still rather low on the long videos, for starters. Instagram only (rightly) counts full views, so there are videos with likes but 0 views recorded.
   It’s nice, once again, to be ahead of the ball when it comes to these technologies, just as I have been with Google and Facebook. The exception here is that it’s been a positive feature rather than the usual negative ones, though I realize that since it’s Instagram, it comes with a load of Facebook-linked privacy issues. Just today it fired through another alcohol ad despite my having turned them off in my settings, again underlining Facebook’s blatant dishonesty.
   Yet here I am, still using one of their services despite having mostly de-Facebooked (and de-Googled years before that). Like millions of others, I’m still a sucker because I continue to use a service they own.

Speaking of the Murdoch Press and Google, we (at work) actually deal with the former when it comes to advertising. Let that sink in for a moment: I trust Murdochs more than I trust Google when it comes to our users’ privacy. That’s saying something.

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Zuckerberg was either wilfully ignorant or lied during his testimony about ad data collection

17.04.2018

Either Mark Zuckerberg is woefully ignorant of what happens at his company or he lied during his testimony to US lawmakers last week.
   As reported by Chris Griffith in the Murdoch Press, Zuckerberg said, ‘Anyone can turn off and opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.’
   Actually, you can’t. As proven many times on this blog.
   If you’d like to read that earlier post, here it is.
   This is still going on in 2018, and confirmed by others.
   I can’t speak for shadow profiles because I am a Facebook user.
   Summary: Facebook will ignore opt-outs done on its own site and at industry sites, and compile ad preferences on you. Been saying it, and proving it, for years.

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Cambridge Analytica is merely Facebook’s ‘smaller, less ambitious sibling’

14.04.2018

Beyond all that had gone on with AIQ and Cambridge Analytica, a lot more has come out about Facebook’s practices, things that I always suspected they do, for why else would they collect data on you even after you opted out?
   Now, Sam Biddle at The Intercept has written a piece that demonstrates that whatever Cambridge Analytica did, Facebook itself does far, far more, and not just to 87 million people, but all of its users (that’s either 2,000 million if you believe Facebook’s figures, or around half that if you believe my theories), using its FBLearner Flow program.
   Biddle writes (link in original):

This isn’t Facebook showing you Chevy ads because you’ve been reading about Ford all week — old hat in the online marketing world — rather Facebook using facts of your life to predict that in the near future, you’re going to get sick of your car. Facebook’s name for this service: “loyalty prediction.”
   Spiritually, Facebook’s artificial intelligence advertising has a lot in common with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica’s controversial “psychographic” profiling of voters, which uses mundane consumer demographics (what you’re interested in, where you live) to predict political action. But unlike Cambridge Analytica and its peers, who must content themselves with whatever data they can extract from Facebook’s public interfaces, Facebook is sitting on the motherlode, with unfettered access to staggering databases of behavior and preferences. A 2016 ProPublica report found some 29,000 different criteria for each individual Facebook user …
   … Cambridge Analytica begins to resemble Facebook’s smaller, less ambitious sibling.

   As I’ve said many times, I’ve no problem with Facebook making money, or even using AI for that matter, as long as it does so honestly, and I would hope that people would take as a given that we expect that it does so ethically. If a user (like me) has opted out of ad preferences because I took the time many years ago to check my settings, and return to the page regularly to make sure Facebook hasn’t altered them (as it often does), then I expect them to be respected (my investigations show that they aren’t). Sure, show me ads to pay the bills, but not ones that are tied to preferences that you collect that I gave you no permission to collect. As far as I know, the ad networks we work with respect these rules if readers had opted out at aboutads.info and the EU equivalent.
   Regulating Facebook mightn’t be that bad an idea if there’s no punishment to these guys essentially breaking basic consumer laws (as I know them to be here) as well as the codes of conduct they sign up to with industry bodies in their country. As I said of Google in 2011: if the other 60-plus members of the Network Advertising Initiative can create cookies that respect the rules, why can’t Google? Here we are again, except the main player breaking the rules is Facebook, and the data they have on us is far more precise than some Google cookies.
   Coming back to Biddle’s story, he sums up the company as a ‘data wholesaler, period.’ The 29,000 criteria per user claim is very easy to believe for those of us who have popped into Facebook ad preferences and found thousands of items collected about us, even after opting out. We also know that the Facebook data download shows an entirely different set of preferences, which means either the ad preference page is lying or the download is lying. In either case, those preferences are being used, manipulated and sold.
   Transparency can help Facebook through this crisis, yet all we saw from CEO Mark Zuckerberg was more obfuscation and feigned ignorance at the Senate and Congress. This exchange last week between Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto and Zuckerberg was a good example:

   Eshoo: It was. Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, we have made and are continuing to make changes to reduce the amount of data …
   Eshoo: No, are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means.

   In other words, they want to preserve their business model and keep things exactly as they are, even if they are probably in violation of a 2011 US FTC decree.
   The BBC World Service News had carried the hearings but, as far as I know, little made it on to the nightly TV here.
   This is either down to the natural news cycle: when Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica in The Observer, it was major news, and subsequent follow-ups haven’t piqued the news editors’ interest in the same way. Or, the media were only outraged as it connected to Trump and Brexit, and now that we know it’s exponentially more widespread, it doesn’t matter as much.
   There’s still hope that the social network can be a force for good, if Zuckerberg and co. are actually sincere about it. If Facebook has this technology, why employ it for evil? That may sound a naïve question, but if you genuinely were there to better humankind (and not rate your female Harvard classmates on their looks) and you were sitting on a motherlode of user data, wouldn’t you ensure that the platform were used to create greater harmony between people rather than sow discord and spur murder? Wouldn’t you refrain from bragging that you have the ability to influence elections? The fact that Facebook doesn’t, and continues to see us as units to be milked in the matrix, should worry us a great deal more than an 87 million-user data breach.

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Turned alcohol ads off in Facebook? Did you honestly think they’d respect that?

10.04.2018

Steve Wozniak has quit Facebook, and apparently was surprised at the advertising preferences that the company had built up on him. Like me, Woz had been deleting the ad preferences and advertisers one at a time. Now, if Woz is surprised, then it shows you how serious it is. As I noted in my last post, Facebook even lies about those: on the public ad preferences page it might show none, in the big Facebook data dump it shows some. I believe it might even lie to advertisers about our activity.
   Here’s something else I can tell you first-hand. When you see ads on Instagram, a Facebook subsidiary, they claim that the preferences are controlled within Facebook.
   Inside the ad preferences, all alcohol ads are turned off. Guess what appeared in my Instagram? An ad for Heineken.
   Unless Heineken has launched a non-alcoholic beer under that brand, then Facebook has lied once again.



Facebook’s ad preferences mean nothing. I saw a beer ad in Instagram, then checked my Facebook ad preferences, which Instagram claims control what ads I see. That’s a load of old bollocks (i.e. business as usual at Facebook Inc.).

   And remember, throughout all of this, I had already opted out of ad customization on another Facebook page, so there’s no reason for Facebook to compile anything on me. Yet, regardless of that setting, it will compile and compile. It will even repopulate, with thousands of preferences, freshly deleted pages.
   Now we know that there’s a possibility, if you weren’t clued up about your privacy settings, that these preferences were sold to others. The latest revelation is that CubeYou had sold user data also gathered under the guise of ‘academic research’. Remember, Facebook knew about the Cambridge Analytica leak in 2015 and sought to bury the story. The new CubeYou story proves that that was not isolated. But then, if you go back through what I have been writing in this blog for a good part of this decade, you really wouldn’t be surprised about any of this. In fact, you can probably make an educated guess and say that this was normal practice at Facebook: have money, will sell. Even President Duterte of the Philippines benefited from these practices, with 1·2 million Filipinos’ data harvested, and the list goes on. In New Zealand, Facebook has said that up to 63,714 Kiwis’ profiles were harvested. And now, it appears there’s even a link with US businessman Peter Thiel, who gained New Zealand residency after spending less than 1 per cent of the time required here, and whose companies, as defence contractors, have received millions of dollars of New Zealand taxpayer funds.
   Thanks to Facebook, governments have a lot on us, something Edward Snowden has been saying for years. The difference in the 2000s and 2010s is, thanks to digital narcissism, we’re the ones willingly providing this information, while Facebook milks it for all it’s worth, before its enriched CEO pretends to play victim, and his people try to use legal means to shut down the negative media stories.

PS., April 14: If you thought the above was isolated, you’d be quite wrong:

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Facebook’s ad preferences’ page and user archive tell totally different stories about their tracking

28.03.2018

I decided there’d be no harm getting that Facebook archive since I was no longer using it. And while I didn’t see phone logs as Dylan McKay did (I only had the app for about a month or so in 2012), what I did find was entirely in line with the privacy breaches I had been accusing Facebook of for years.
   It relates to the Facebook ad preferences. In December 2016, I filed a complaint with the US Better Business Bureau over the fact that Facebook continued to compile data on your advertising preferences even after you opted out. During 2016, Facebook repopulated all my preferences not once, but multiple times, and I found a direct link between one of the advertisements it displayed in my feed and the recompiled preferences. This was the “smoking gun” the BBB asked me to find, though I never heard back from them.
   As of 2018, knowing that Facebook will not respect your opt-outs, just as Google failed to do in 2011 (and potentially for two years before that), I visited the ad preferences’ page (here’s the link to yours, if you use Facebook and are logged in) regularly to keep it empty. What the download showed was very damning: Facebook has preferences compiled on me that do not appear on its ad preferences’ page.
   Below are two screen shots, one of Facebook’s ad preferences’ page, and what is recorded in the archive. This is a direct violation of not only what the BBB says is one of its principles, it is a violation of the code advertisers subscribe to in industry bodies like the Network Advertising Initiative.



Above: Facebook’s own advertising preferences’ page, yet its user archive records something entirely different.

   The archive is also interesting in claiming what ads I have supposedly interacted with. The ad preferences’ page says I have only clicked on an ad from my Alma Mater, St Mark’s Church School. The download says otherwise, recording clicks but not describing which device. However, I can categorically state that the downloaded record is 100 per cent false. I have not only never clicked on those ads (in either Facebook or on Instagram), I have not heard of some of these organizations. It is tempting, therefore, to conclude that if this is Facebook’s record of my activity, then it is misrepresenting click activity to advertisers, which I regard as extremely dishonest. We already know Facebook lies about users that ads can reach. Even if you don’t take my word for it, then you must ask yourself why the Facebook page and the Facebook download tell two very different stories. Which is right?



It’s the same story when it comes to which advertisers I have interacted with. The second list, in the user archive, is 100 per cent false. Has Facebook lied to advertisers over click activity?

   This is not the end of it. As to which advertisers have my contact information, the ad preferences’ page say none. The download, however, says Spotify (which I have never used or downloaded), Shutterstock (whose site I have been on) and Emirates (and I am on their email list, but separately from Facebook). Again, why the two different records? And why has Facebook passed on this information to three advertisers without my consent?



Once again, when it comes to who has my contact information, Facebook tells me one story on an easily accessible page, and another one inside my user data archive. Which is true?

   While most people will be less shocked by these revelations—I realize most are quite happy for Google et al to track them around the place and feed them content to confirm their own biases—it is still a violation of trust and the principles that Facebook itself has signed up to.
   It’s another case of ‘I told you so’: something that I suspected, found some evidence for, and found even more evidence for today.
   Like the malware scanner, the subject of my blog post in 2016 and Louise Matsakis’s exposé in Wired last month, Facebook needs to come clean on why it compiles data on users who have used its own settings to opt out, why it lies to users over what those preferences are, and why it may lie to advertisers about user click activity.
   We know the answer is money. As I said in December 2016, I have no problem with Facebook making money. I just ask, as I do with any venture, that it does so honestly. Right now, even with all the data it has on us, it appears Facebook can’t even do that right.

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