26 Apr 2019
Bavaria: good beer, even better data privacy laws
So the Bavarian Data Protection Authority has just ruled that Facebook Custom Audience is actually illegal. This teaches us that breaking the law is really easy as long you do it secretly and you are also a multi-billion dollar corporation.
Anyway, people who want to sell you things (known as ‘shops’) use Facebook to target you with adverts. That is what Facebook Custom Audience is. It works roughly like this:
- An online shop selling fridge magnets or notebooks or other boring piffle uploads your email/other contact info into Facebook Custom Audience
- Facebook uses your contact information to see if you’d be a good match for this seller
- You receive a ‘targeted ad’. The status quo is maintained.
- No one at any point attempts to ask you if it is okay that your contact is shared with Facebook
Hopefully you can see where the potentially unlawful part is. Everything before step 4 is actually fine, really. It’s okay to advertise your business; it’s okay to want your ads to reach relevant audiences. But… can you not just ask first? Transparency can’t be that hard, surely.
The Black Forest, Bavaria
Cut them off at the source - or just cut everything off?
On Easter Sunday, three Christian churches and three luxury hotels across Sri Lanka were targeted with suicide bombings. Part of the Sri Lankan government’s emergency response was to block social media channels, including Facebook and Instagram.
✅ Okay, good:
- Temporarily closing channels down could reduce more violence happening - people just love to get online and think of cool new ways to be violent, like that thing that happened last year
- Phew Facebook haven’t beaten the government yet because the government can switch Facebook off, if they want
- This feeds the important conversation surrounding social media inciting violence
❌ Actually, bad:
- Most people tend to use social media for non-violent purposes. E.g. to tell your loved ones that you’re okay after a bomb just went off (that example is very applicable to this story…)
- Just switching Facebook to ‘off’ doesn’t stop bombs from going off; this is too much of a blanket solution
- If people really want to use social media to organise their next attack, they will, because VPNs exist.
This action from the Sri Lankan government may have also been too safe (to the point of being silly and unsafe). They blocked off social media channels before any social media related violence even happened. Sort of like stuffing all taps full of cement because you’re scared of maybe getting wet one day…
“These are just fun coupons, have as many as you like”
So in 2011 the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) smacked Facebook right in the Zuckerberg with a bunch of fines. These were over - can you guess? Ding ding ding: the privacy of its users, which is something that Facebook are famously terrible at. Part of the agreement with the FTC was to do a privacy evaluation every two years and to pay $16k a day for each count of the settlement that they violate.
The two parties are currently negotiating this fine, but Facebook have estimated that it will be somewhere around the $3 billion mark. This is the largest fine that the FTC has ever done, but who cares because of these reasons:
- Facebook have a lot of money. This is a drop in the ocean for them. The fact that they’ve already announced that they’ve put the money aside is astounding.
- Just because it’s the biggest FTC fine, it doesn’t mean it’s big. The EU have fined Google $5 billion over anti-trust things already, and have also fined Apple $15 billion for tax evasion
- This fine is perfect for both FTC and Facebook. The former can look like it’s doing it’s job and the latter can look like it’s being held accountable for it’s actions.
- 💸Again, Facebook have… sooooo much money💸
This whole thing begs another question: how do you even decide what to fine? What magical large sum of money is ‘enough’ to deliver justice? Dunno, pretty sure the FTC spend all day pulling numbers out of thin air.
I love it when a robot tells me what to do
Amazon warehouses are taking surveillance and automation to the next level. The world has just found out that as well as measuring productivity at a disturbingly granular level, they also terminate warehouse staff using the same system. In other words, if you ‘take too long’ in the bathroom, or don’t sift through the piles of batteries and sex toys quick enough, you could receive an automated message telling you to go home. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said the (fake) Amazon blimp video was not ‘borderline dystopian’. You can’t be on the borderline if you’re already there.