Tagged: Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook explains what data it collects from non-users, but still doesn’t offer a way out

Just because Mark Zuckerberg appeared before US Congress last week to answer a plethora of questions about the way Facebook handles user data and privacy doesn’t mean Facebook is done with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. There are more “hard questions” ahead, given that Zuckerberg’s answers weren’t exhaustive.

One of the things Facebook CEO failed to address appropriately during questioning concerns the way Facebook tracks internet users, regardless of whether they have a Facebook account, or whether they’re signed into one. Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook tracks all your activity online, saying it does it for security reasons.

Reports that followed revealed that Facebook isn’t really interested in building tools that would allow non-Facebook users to keep track of the kind of data Facebook collects, and opt out. It turns out that you can’t really prevent Facebook, or other internet companies, from tracking your activities.

And Facebook just came out with a “Hard Questions” blog post that further elaborates on the kind of data Facebook collects when you’re not using Facebook.

The post is a lot more comprehensive than Zuckerberg’s testimony. However, don’t expect a way out. Facebook is simply explaining what data it collects, and why it does it. But there’s absolutely no way to turn it off.

Facebook Product Management Director David Baser reminds readers in the lengthy blog post that Facebook is merely doing what others websites also do when it comes to tracking you.

Facebook uses social plugins (Like and Share buttons), Facebook Logins, Facebook Analytics, as well as Facebook ads to keep track of users.

“When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account,” Baser writes. “This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook.”

Facebook collects a bunch of data about you including your IP address (therefore your location), browser type, operating system. Its cookies also keep track of the sites you visit, and what app you’re using.

Facebook says it uses the data for security reasons — which is the reason Zuckerberg gave last week — but also to provide its services to sites and apps, and enhance its own services.

The exec would like you to know that “we don’t sell people’s data. Period.” Whenever someone says “period” like that, something feels off.

Sure, Facebook doesn’t sell the data it collects. But it uses that data to sell better ads, or to try to convert more internet users to Facebook:

Facebook Audience Network enables other websites and apps to show ads from Facebook advertisers. When we get a request to show an Audience Network ad, we need to know where to send it and the browser and operating system a person is using. Cookies and device identifiers help us determine whether the person uses Facebook. If they don’t, we can show an ad encouraging them to sign up for Facebook. If they do, we’ll show them ads from the same advertisers that are targeting them on Facebook. We can also use the fact that they visited a site or app to show them an ad from that business – or a similar one – back on Facebook.

One issue with the blog post is that it doesn’t specifically address what happens with the data belonging to those internet users who choose not to sign up for Facebook. It’s mostly focusing on internet users who may not be signed into Facebook at all times.

Furthermore, Baser only offers controls to Facebook users, which will allow them to customize their News Feed and Ads experiences, and even disregard data Facebook collects about them. Non-users, meanwhile, have no control over what Facebook knows about them, or what happens with that data. In other words, this “Hard Questions” post feels like it deserves a sequel.

Facebook tracks you even if you’re not a user, and you can’t really do anything about it

We’ve talked about the fact that Facebook is tracking everyone online — even people who choose not to open a Facebook account — long before the Cambridge Analytica revelations came to light. But now that Mark Zuckerberg had to face Congress twice in as many days, we know for a fact that Facebook is indeed doing it. The good news is that, well, we know Facebook is doing it, which means regulators may find ways to stop the practice. But the bad news is that you can’t really do anything about it for the time being, and Facebook doesn’t plan to offer non-users access to the information about them that the service collects.

Zuckerberg told U.S. Representative Ben Luján on Wednesday that Facebook collects “data of people who have not signed up for Facebook” for security reasons. However, he never explained what these reasons are, nor did he explain what Facebook is doing with the information it gathers, aside from using it for security purposes.

“This kind of data collection is fundamental to how the internet works,” Facebook told Reuters in a statement. Facebook uses cookies to collect non-users data, but people can’t really opt out.

“There are basic things you can do to limit the use of this information for advertising, like using browser or device settings to delete cookies,” Facebook said when asked if users could opt out. “This would apply to other services beyond Facebook because, as mentioned, it is standard to how the internet works.”

That is true, but you’d have to rinse and repeat that operation over and over. Also, that doesn’t limit Facebook’s ability to collect data on you, and it doesn’t let you delete any of the info the company has on you.

Facebook said it uses browsing data to create analytics reports about traffic to a site, and that it doesn’t use the data to target ads, aside from the ones inviting you to join the social network. Facebook also gets data about non-users when users upload contact information. Facebook said it doesn’t combine cookie data with data from uploaded contacts.

Lawmakers, including Representative Luján, want Facebook to build a tool that would allow non-users to find out what the company knows about them. For the time being, however, Facebook has no plans to create such a tool, Reuters said.

Mark Zuckerberg was prepared to call out Tim Cook and Apple for being hypocrites

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook have been taking small potshots at one another. A few weeks back, Cook got the ball rolling when he said that he’s never been a big proponent of any service that houses detailed profiles of its users. In a broad sense, Cook took swipes at any service where users are leveraged for advertising dollars.

“We can make a ton of money if customers were our product,” Cook said in an interview late last month. “We have elected not to do that.”

When specifically asked what he would do if he found himself in Zuckerberg’s position, Cook replied: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Not too long after, Zuckerberg sat down for an interview with Ezra Klein where he took umbrage with Cook’s remarks.

“You know,” Zuckerberg added, “I find that argument that, if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you to be extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth.”

“The reality here,” Zuckerberg continued, “is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay.”

With that as a backdrop, an eagle-eyed AP photographer observed that Zuckerberg’s notes during his appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday included a few blurbs on Apple’s own privacy practices. Presumably, Zuckerberg was prepared to lay into Apple should the need arise, though that never ended up happening.


One portion in particular notes that there are “lots of stories about apps misusing Apple data, never seen Apple notify people.”

Another bullet point references the fact that logging in to an app with Facebook is, in many ways, no different than installing an app on an iPhone.

“On data,” the point reads, “when you install an app on your iPhone, you give it access to some information, just like when you login with FB.”

The last day of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony begins at 10AM – watch live right here

In a hearing that was scheduled to last two hours yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg ended up answering questions from the US Senate committee members for over five hours about Facebook’s responsibility to safeguard user privacy and the Cambridge Analytica data breach that has dominated headlines for weeks now.

But even after a marathon session yesterday, Zuckerberg isn’t out of the woods yet. The CEO will pick up right where he left off this morning with another testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee today at 7 AM PT / 10 AM ET. There’s no telling how long this one will last, so settle in if you’re going to watch.

Titled “Transparency and Use of Private Data,” today’s hearing will cover some of the same ground as the Senate hearing, but the representatives will probably press Zuckerberg on answers they weren’t satisfied with from yesterday. And now that Zuckerberg’s notes have been shared far and wide, the House committee may take the opportunity to phrase questions in a way that the CEO will be forced to answer differently than he expected.

Watch the entire hearing as it happens at 10 AM ET with the live streaming video from NBC News below:


While there were plenty of worthwhile takeaways from yesterday, a disappointing (but unsurprising) proportion of the five-hour session was dedicated to Zuckerberg explaining to very old senators what Facebook actually is and how it works. In general, the House skews younger than the Senate, so the hope is that more time is spent on substantive questions this morning than what we saw on Tuesday afternoon.

Top 5 takeaways from day 1 of Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate testimony

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday appeared before Congress for day one of a two-day grilling from United States Senators. Some Senators were more friendly than others — coincidentally we’re sure, some Senators have in the past received donations from the Facebook PAC while others have not — but the overall tone was obviously quite serious as Congress sought more information related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that has now dominated the news cycle for the past month.

For a quick recap, Cambridge Analytica is a shady political consultancy that bought private data belonging to as many as 87 million Facebook users. The data was obtained by a Cambridge professor who used a personality quiz under false pretenses, gaining access to data belonging not just to the few hundred thousand people who took the quiz, but to tens of millions more as well. Cambridge Analytica was then hired by the Trump campaign ahead of the 2016 presidential election, and the private data in question is believed to have been used to help influence voters.

The story broke quite some time ago, but new details continue to come to light even now. Facebook has begun notifying affected users and the company will be in damage control mode for months to come. Currently, the most important step in controlling all the damage is working with Congress not just to answer Senators’ questions, but to convince lawmakers and Facebook users that the company has fixed the flaws that led to this gross misuse of user data, and that it is continuing to do more to protect its users.

With day 1 of Zuckerberg’s testimony behind us and day 2 scheduled to begin later on Wednesday, let’s take a look at the five most important takeaways from the first day of the Facebook CEO’s testimony.

Congress has no idea how Facebook works

A few of the Senators questioning Zuckerberg on Tuesday clearly understood the issues at hand. They took time to do their research, they understood how Facebook works, they had a clear grasp of what went wrong in the Cambridge Analytica ordeal, and they asked important questions in an effort to ensure Facebook is taking the proper measures in the aftermath of this scandal. They were the minority.

Most of the questions Zuckerberg had to field from Congress on Tuesday were basic, irrelevant, misguided, or flat-out embarrassing. Truth be told, we were pretty impressed with the Facebook CEO’s ability to figure out what Senators were trying to ask. Of course, some of the grandstanding was so confusing and misguided that Zuckerberg seemed to have no idea what was actually being asked of him. We can’t fault him there — we were often left baffled as well.

Senators repeatedly asked questions that wasted everyone’s time about basic Facebook functionality. Others had obvious misconceptions about how certain Facebook features worked, and Zuckerberg was left having to carefully and respectfully explain why they were wrong. It got painful to watch at times. Some questions were so misguided that they were impossible to parse, and Zuckerberg got tripped up as a result. Sen. Bill Wilson’s initial line of questioning is a perfect example. Watching him try to make misguided points about targeted advertising was cringe-worthy.

Long story short, day one would have been far more productive if Senators had left their soapboxes at home, and if they had bothered to do even the slightest amount of research before wasting everyone’s time.

Facebook may some day offer a paid version of its service

Like Google, Facebook offers its services for free. Facebook is a business though, and it needs to make money. This is currently accomplished by serving ads to users and receiving payment from the companies whose products and services are promoted in those ads. In order to serve more relevant ads to users, personal data is collected and analyzed in order to serve targeted ads, unless the user opts out. It’s not a terribly uncommon business model, but it’s still an issue for many users, it would seem.

During the course of Zuckerberg’s testimony, he fielded a few questions from Senators who asked (or at least tried to ask) if Facebook might ever offer a paid version of its service that didn’t collect personal user data or serve any ads. Zuckerberg confirmed that this is a possibility for the future, but that there would always be a free version of Facebook available.

People like targeted ads

Because so many Senators were so confused about how Facebook works, Zuckerberg had to explain the company’s advertising products several times. During one of those explanations, he mentioned that users are able to opt out of data collection and advertisement personalization. But he also said that most users don’t opt out of targeted ads. According to research Facebook has conducted, users prefer seeing ads that are relevant to their interests than ads that are just served up randomly.

Artificial intelligence is key to Facebook’s future

Many of the Senators had trouble staying on topic, so some of the conversation veered to things like Russian meddling and hate speech on Facebook. Each time Zuckerberg fielded a question about how Facebook is improving or plans to improve its ability to identify and cull accounts that are in violation of its policies, he leaned on AI. Facebook has already deployed AI tools that are effective at identifying and banning accounts that promote terrorism or spread fake news, according to Zuckerberg. Hate speech is a more nuanced and therefore complicated matter, and Zuckerberg said it could be between 5 and 10 years before AI can effectively identify and act on it.

A big Facebook conspiracy theory was finally debunked

For years there have been rumblings in all corners of the internet that Facebook’s mobile app secretly accesses your phone’s microphone and monitors conversations. It then supposedly stores that data and uses it along with all the other data Facebook collects to serve targeted ads. Sorry, conspiracy theorists, but Zuckerberg shut this one down once and for all.

“Yes or no, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about users?” Sen. Gary Peters asked.

Zuckerberg’s response left no room for interpretation: “No.”