Facebook addiction turns users into marketing guinea pigs
Some people believe Facebook is an emotion-manipulation machine. Others think the Godzilla social network should be replaced with a public, non-profit version. What tech industry analysts of all stripes agree on is that Facebook is taking unfair advantage of the billion-plus people who regularly use the service.
What no one agrees on is what to do about it.
Start with the premise that technology is designed to be addictive, as New York University professor Adam Alter explains in his book Irresistible. (The Guardian's Fatima Bhutto reviews the book in an April 28, 2017, article on AlterNet.) Then consider how adept Facebook has become at making its users experience whatever emotion the company chooses for them.
In a May 1, 2017, article on Forbes, Kalev Leetaru reports on research conducted by Facebook's Australian office on behalf of marketers that identified when teenagers as young as 14 years old are most "vulnerable," feeling "worthless" and like a "failure." When Facebook was criticized for similiar conduct in 2014, the company responded with a terse explanation that all data collected in the study was anonymized, and access to the data required signing a non-disclosure agreement.
Two researchers were involved in the recent Australian study, and Leetaru writes that no one at Facebook's U.S. headquarters was aware of the Australian employees' study. This calls into question the effectiveness of Facebook's "ethical review board," according to Leetaru. Facebook states only that it "has not yet used this emotional data as an advertising selector."
Leetaru concludes that the negative reaction to the 2014 Facebook experiments in emotional manipulation of users failed to prevent the company from continuing to look for ways to mess with people's minds.
Facebook execs 'lying through their teeth,' claims former FB marketer
We're offered a glimpse of Facebook's internal marketing operations by Antonio Garcia-Martinez, a Facebook product manager from 2011 to 2013. In a May 2, 2017, article on The Guardian, Garcia-Martinez claims he was "charged with turning Facebook data into money, by any legal means."
Garcia-Martinez writes that "Mark Zuckerberg was being disingenuous (to put it mildly)" when he said he didn't think Facebook could have "flipped" the November 2016 election in the Rough Beast's favor. The company operates a "political advertising sales team" for each party, whose goal is to convince "deep-pocketed politicians that they do have the kind of influence needed to alter the outcome of elections."
During the 2012 Presidential campaign, it was a "running joke" at Facebook that swinging the election would be as easy as targeting Get Out the Vote campaigns at either Democratic or Republican precincts, whichever party paid Facebook more. Garcia-Martinez concludes that "Facebook will never try to limit such use of their data unless the public uproar reaches such a crescendo as to be un-mutable."
Loud and steady criticism of fake news was the only reason Facebook created its much-hyped anti-fake news technology, according to Garcia-Martinez, "but they'll slip the trap as soon as they can." After all, when it comes to ads, "the data and the clickthrough rates are on their side."
(In case you're interested, in August 2016 the Washington Post listed the 98 personal data points Facebook collects about you so it can target ads... and maybe alter your world view to whatever perspective pays Facebook the most money.)
Welcome to the age of ads that can read your mind
Facial recognition and other biometric techniques are capable of determining at a distance when you are tired, for example. James G. Brooks, found and CEO of video marketing firm GlassView, writes in a May 7, 2017, article on VentureBeat that consumers are more receptive to ads when they're tired, according to researchers. Other studies cited by Brooks have shown that when people are happy, the ads they view are as much as 40 percent more effective than usual.
Brooks points out that it's not a tremendous obstacle for marketers to use face scans and other body measurements to determine your mood -- and by extension your likelihood of being receptive to their message. He doubts marketers will bother asking people before they "measure" them how they feel about having their emotional state recorded, shared, and used by the collector to make a profit.
The advertisers don't just target you at home. A technique called geo-fencing alerts them whenever your phone's GPS signal indicates you've entered a particular area, such as the grounds of a medical facility. JD Supra reports on a recent case in Massachusetts where a consumer protection law was used to prevent Copley Advertising from using geo-fencing to send anti-abortion ads to the phones of women who were at or near women's health clinics.
Copley claims it hadn't yet actively engaged in GPS-based ad serving but had the ability to do so. This caused the Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Healey to sue the company for violating the state's privacy statutes. The company did use geo-fencing to target ads to smartphone users "near reproductive health centers and methadone clinics in Columbus, New York City, Pittsburgh, Richmond and St. Louis, and continued to send targeted ads for up to 30 days," according to the JD Supra article.
In settling the suit, Copley denied any wrongdoing but agreed not to engage in geo-fencing at or near health facilities in Massachusetts " to infer the health status, medical condition or medical treatment of any individual." Copley claims any attempt to prevent the company from serving ads via geo-fencing is a violation of its free-speech rights. For more information, read the Assurance of Discontinuance relating to In the Matter of Copley Advertising (pdf).
Targeted ads may not be so effective after all: Digital ad revenue continues to soar, according to numbers from research firm eMarketer cited by MIT Techology Review's Kate Kaye in a May 5, 2017, article. Forty percent of the $206 billion spent on advertising in 2017 went to digital ads. That $82 billion in online ads in 2017 is forecast to grow to $129 billion by 2021. Yet companies are discovering that targeted ads aren't as effective as they claim to be.
According to ad executives quoted by Kaye, companies miss sales opportunities when they target ads too narrowly. One example is a fitness apparel vendor that targeted ads at men between the ages of 18 and 24, only to discover afterwards that "mothers and wives [were] buying for their sons and husbands."
Did news media make a deal with the advertising devil? It's all about the eyeballs these days, as I wrote about in the April 12, 2017, Weekly. In an April 28, 2017, post on Medium, Jennifer Baker argues that the quest for page views has caused the death of journalism ethics. There is no longer any value placed on quality news writing because "dozens of 20-somethings [are] willing to work for free."
It takes no talent or training to crank out clickbait and listicles, according to Baker, and no media company can possibly compete with Google and Facebook for any reasonable slice of the online-ad pie. (Note that neither Google or Facebook ever pays for the news they capitalize on with their own ad networks.)
Baker recommends that news aggregators be forced to pay for each snippet they show from news sources. However, even this is not likely to fix what's broken with the ad-driven media model. Paywalls? Micropayments? Taxation to pay for reliable news? Your guess is as good as anybody's. But what's becoming increasingly certain is that the ad model is destroying journalism at every level.
Republicans: 'Most dangerous organization in world history': I was hoping to avoid politics in this Weekly, what with the Russian takeover of our country all but a fait accompli. But this April 25, 2017, excerpt on AlterNet of the new book Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power by Noam Chomsky, Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nykes, and Jared P. Scott needs to be shared as widely as possible.
The book's premise: "The [Republican] party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life." The authors cite one study that analyzed 1,700 policy decisions and correlated them to public attitudes and business interests. The researchers concluded that "policy is uncorrelated with public attitudes, and closely correlated with corporate interests."
There are no simple solutions to the mess we've made of the world. But the fix begins by casting the Republicans out of the seats of power -- and being careful not to replace them with Democrats who are just as deeply embedded in the pockets of corporations. What do you say we start with the Russian agent who currently occupies the White House? I'm talking about storming the White House and physically removing him and his criminal minions.
Then we'll head across the Mall and sweep the trash out of Congress. I'll gas up the car. Who's with me?