back to article Facebook's inflection point: Now everyone knows this greedy mass surveillance operation for what it is

I've a special reason to remember Enron and the summers of 2000 and 2001. The mighty Enron was being lauded as a pioneer and an innovator. It was a Wall Street darling. IBM and AOL jumped into bed with Enron to create a new retail energy provider. The sun shone, and Californians had plenty of energy capacity. But behind the …

don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

Current controversy aside, I do have to wonder just how effective their ads actually are. My gut instinct is: not very and that ad dollars are directed to them because a) advertisers don't know where else to spend those dollars with the decline in print, and b) advertisers believe they NEED to be buying there.

It may be that they eventually decide to spend those dollars elsewhere, or forego the buy and keep that money as additional profit.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

No-one ever clicks on the ads and most people ignore them.

On Windows, and ad-blocker gets rid of them,. and 3rd party Android wrapper apps hide them too.

I really don't know why companies use FB as an advertising platform as it seems a complete waste of money to me. I would never advertise my businesses with them.

P.S. I was visiting Houston the week Enron collapsed. We went downtown to see their empty office block. The fallout was huge at the time. Being big doesn't make you immune to go out of business.

Facebook has hurt legitimate selling platforms with their marketplace, damaged web forum communities with groups and created an entire platform for attention seeking idiots. Above that they have manipulated society which is not good for anyone. The quicker they are gone the better.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

That is the trap we fall into. It's a bit like smoking, if you smoke you know it tastes horrible and does nothing for you yet you continue to do it convincing yourself that it does do something and that you aren't stupid enough to fall for it. That's the same with Ads, I could try to convince myself that ads don't effect me but then I would be lying to myself, for example on the very rare occasions I drink carbonated cola I buy diet coke, why is that? is it because it tastes better or is it because for most of my life I've been exposed to literally millions of coke ads? I could try to kid myself that it's the taste but in reality it's ads and the caffeine which I can get from any other brand of diet cola. It's a form of brainwashing, the ad could be rubbish or it could be brilliant, all it needs to get you to do is think of the brand then when you are out shopping and you want something you'll pick that brand. If you really are immune to advertising then in your weekly shop you would purchase absolutely no brand name products, you could argue some work better or taste better but have you tried all the non-brand named products first or have you just stuck with a brand after trying one other?

There are probably (very likely) studies that back this up, the sales numbers for brand name products definitely back this up so advertising is never going to go away and people are always going to fall for it.

Personally these days I usually only buy brand products when on special offer and never see ads because I don't watch television (no adverts internet films and tv for me) and use adblock and a pi-hole.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

Actually, I drink Sunkist. It's not an advertised soda, and I settled on it after trying many other orange sodas and finding them lacking in orange flavor. I've also drunk RC which is also not advertised. Otherwise, it's usually whatever's convenient for me (I would really believe you if people made their restaurant/take-out choices based on the sodas they served).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reg7JuumgC8

Sure, keep telling yourself that. Thanks for highlighting everything I said. We try to convince ourselves we are clever but by doing so we fall for the things we shouldn't. To err is human.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

'Cuke, it's Heaven in a Can!'...

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

@AC: I' m not arguing that advertising can't be effective. My question is to just how effective ads on FB or Google actually are. Speaking only for myself, I'd say not very - but, as you point out our perception may not be the best guide. OTH, I find the ads in the print edition of the WSJ to be effective to the point of generating several purchases. That may well be a generational thing.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

If I had a share in Google for every time I've seen apparently intelligent people claiming that ads don't work, I could have retired a decade ago.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

I have known since I was about 10 that Coca-Cola tastes better than Pepsi-Cola. A few years later I learned a critical exception: Pizza must be taken with Pepsi rather than Coke, but the basic rule held otherwise. And a few years later came the realization that beer in its many forms is the only viable alternative to either.

All of this wisdom came largely from experience and the guidance of contemporaries. I do not recall ads that told me Coke beat Pepsi, but certainly there were some, and a comparable number of Pepsi-Cola ads that said the opposite. And the beer ads were probably more numerous than either, and as inconsequential. I suspect the same is true of Google and Facebook ads (as well as The Register's push, which I largely avoid with either AdBlock or uBlock.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

That is already happening - there are also several businesses looking at cutting there online ad spend by up to 50%.

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"It's compliemtary. It's not free." Words to *always* keep in mind.

Orlowskis right.

It's the fact they use all that content (Like the stuff I'm generating now as it happens) for free.

Yet without it what is FaceBook?

Remember the inscription of the statue that reads "For I am Ozymandias, King of Kings. See my works and tremble" and all that's left is the feet?

Would it really take that much to turn FaceBook into the new MySpace? If a provider came along and paid for content?

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Re: "It's compliemtary. It's not free." Words to *always* keep in mind.

I believe it would take a lot more than that. After all, does Netflix hold a candle to YouTube? In the end those four little letters have such an allure that people would probably give their soul away as long as they see those magic words "Facebook is Free." As the comedian said, "You Can't Fix Stupid," and Stupid's gonna take the rest of us with them.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

"If I had a share in Google for every time I've seen apparently intelligent people claiming that ads don't work, I could have retired a decade ago."

No doubt you could. But what bearing does that have on the validity of the claim?

I keep saying this: the one thing the advertising industry sells is advertising. Not soap. Not over-acidified flavoured fizzy sugar solutions. Not cars. Advertising.

The real scandal of this is that the vendors of those products not sold by the advertising industry take good money from the rest of us as part of the price and give it to the advertising industry because they've been suckered into buying advertising. That's why your shares in Google would have prospered.

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Re: Worry, our data aren't as effective as we told you

Current controversy aside, I do have to wonder just how effective their ads actually are.

I think the real danger for Facepalm and Google is it's not the effectiveness of their ads, it's the effectiveness of their analytics and data. Advertisers are already questioning this, ie how effective their online spend really is in converting ads into purchases.

The current crisis was brought about by CA's sales pitch to a prospective client, and making claims about how effective their data and analytics are in influencing customers. Facepalm's been roped into that via their data sharing, and litigation and regulatory investigations are going to offer a peek behind the curtain. So unless there's heavy redaction, there's the prospect of discovering what data are held, and how we're profiled.

And I suspect advertisers will be looking very closely at that, because I know as a simple user, I'm often bombarded with adverts for stuff I'm very unlikely to buy because either the data or the profile of me is wrong. Ok, so that's partly my fault because I deliberately pollute my profile when I can. If the data is garbage, then so is the profile and any analytics applied to that.. Which is the Ratner problem. Don't worry, social network analysis is ineffective because of data quality.

But that's also where a crisis presents opportunities. Facepalm and Google offer a profile page. If that actually showed their profile of us, then we'd have an opportunity to correct it. If we want. Or even have an interests option where we can show the kinds of things we may actually be interested in. Then adverts may actually be relevant and waste less of our time, or advertiser's money. I've always found it bizarre that none of the online ad behemoths ever bother asking content providers what ads they want to see.

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Big Brother

Re: Worry, our data aren't as effective as we told you

You don't even need to click on an ad, or buy anything. Advertising is clever, subliminal. The point of all this Facebook scandal is how the data (allegedly) could be used, and how clever designer advertising could be used to change opinion, or even voting habits. It's what's on the screen that you 'ignore', or may not even actually consciously register that is the worry. Just saying "I don't follow ads", or "they don't affect me" is what they want, because it gives the illusion that you are in control.

And how many of us that "ignore ads" actually do see one in a hundred that are "now, that's interesting". Out of the billions of users, your click through along with a tiny proportion of the whole audience is just what the sellers are looking for. Seemingly though, that activity is now secondary.

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LDS
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Not all ads are crated - and placed - equal

Ads may be effective, or may be just a nuisance people utterly ignore. Online ads are mostly in the latter category, albeit FB & Google marketing are very able to convince people they are fully in the former.

Probably very targeted ads to the most gullible people have a higher return - but overall, they don't. Even people who don't use an ad blocker learn to ignore ads and find contents on the page - which in turn led to even more invasive ads which obtain the wrong result - people hate them.

Just look at how site news struggle to make revenues from ads, and have to add more and more of them, and a lot of click baits in attempt to make some money. In a magazine, you may give a look to a well laid out ad for a product you could be interested in, especially if it also has some useful data in (features, prices, etc.). But puts lots of bad ones on every right page, and you'll lose the reader interest quickly. Same for the web - clutter a page with many different flashy ads, and you've lost the reader. But they are interested in just selling lots of ads, not at making the effective, which would be much more difficult and expensive.

Especially since it's very difficult for advertising to measure the effects of their ads, since the ads platforms controls both delivery and their metrics - quite impossible for third parties have independent measures. So, basically, advertiser have to trust them - and nobody is ready to call "the emperor has no clothes!" for fear of looking stupid.

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"Free"

Until there's a universal standard anonymous online payment system that's as convenient as offline cash, "free" datamining- and advertising-supported clickbait garbage is the way.

Alternatively, that form of pollution will subside as people shift from the Web to the new wave of decentralized privacy- and free-speech-oriented internet protocols.

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Advertising is clever, subliminal.

Not really. Most is banal and amateurish. My wife spent her career in advertising, including being on the team for the Anheuser-Busch account (Spuds Mackenzie, the Budweiser frogs, Nights are made for Michelob), Cadillac, the then Southwestern Bell and others.

About that time one of the periodic books with their puffed up claims of subliminal advertising and other nonsense came out and the agency was besieged by people who had discovered all sorts of subliminal cues in their ads. None existed except in the minds of their discovers. Example: One ad featured three women in Budweiser swimsuits on a Budweiser Beach towel. The claim was that the women's hairdos were arranged to have an S, an E and an X spelling sex. If you wanted to find it and were willing to squint your eyes to blur the picture, you could conceivably stretch a point and say you saw it - or any other three letter word you can think of. But the people who put the ad together knew that it was all hogwash, like pretty much all the rest of those claims.

There are very few evil geniuses in the world, but there is an overabundance of the credulous and gullible.

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Re: Worry, our data aren't as effective as we told you

You don't even need to click on an ad, or buy anything. Advertising is clever, subliminal. The point of all this Facebook scandal is how the data (allegedly) could be used, and how clever designer advertising could be used to change opinion, or even voting habits.

That's a theory. And it's a theory that's heavily sold by online marketeers who'll offer to influence in exchange for an agreeable portion of your online budget. But quantifying the effectiveness is never easy, and investigations into this affair may shed more light on that. Did any of CA's campaign work really surgically target voter's eyeballs, and persuade them to vote (or not vote) as advertised? If it didn't, then it raises more questions about the value of online campaigning.. Or help clarify the legalities around online political campaigning, along with privacy issues for data aggregators & potential abusers.

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Re: "It's compliemtary. It's not free." Words to *always* keep in mind.

The inscription on the statue was fictional, of course. Shelley said that he was reporting a traveller's tale: Ozymandias. How I wish I could write like that! And it was published just on two hundred years ago, I notice. In another two hundred years, Shelley's poetry will still be justly admired, and all today's Facebook posts will have long since disappeared.

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Anonymous Coward

"Did any of CA's campaign work really surgically target voter's eyeballs"

Just remember reinforcing bias is easier than selling a product - which requires people part with some of their money. In fact, it may be easier to make people buy more of the same product, than switching to a different one - coupons are a way to achieve it.

That makes Facebook, Google & C. data slurping even more scaring: they may discover that the data they collect are less useful to sell ads, than being used to reinforce people biases. And it may not end well...

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Headmaster

Wait a minute...

Isn't El Reg "free" in exactly the same way as Google and Facebook?

Really, I don't recall ever being solicited for payment by Situation Publishing.

Just sayin'.

Also, I think conflating advertising with snooping is disingenuous. The two are not synonymous, they're not even inextricable. Certainly neither Google nor Facebook seem to get that, but it's true nonetheless. There's no particular reason why a company can't just advertise, without slurping your private bits.

On the other hand, everyone hates spam. Everyone. Except spammers, obviously. So a business model that relies exclusively on spamming is doomed to failure.

On the third hand, the idea that the future of society is culture locked behind a paywall, and only avariciously rationed out in micro-transactions, is truly a dystopian nightmare.

In reality the outcome would amount to global censorship, governed by the selfish laws of capitalism. The world would fall silent, save for the privileged few with more money than they know what to do with. The poor, which is at least 80% of the global population, remember, and which is already socially isolated by inadequate access to education and communications, would be locked out of an elitist information society altogether. And the majority of the remaining 20%, leading a meagre subsistence lifestyle with little to no disposable income, would be disinclined to waste precious resources on this universal lockdown of paywall culture.

It'd be like a reversion to pre-industrial society, for all but the one-percenters. In fact it'd devolve humanity further than that, back to the middle ages, before the advent of Gutenberg.

Clearly there's a problem with the current paradigm, but it's not because of open society, it's because the gatekeepers of this open society are inadequately regulated, or in fact not really regulated at all. More fundamentally, it's because there are gatekeepers, when there really shouldn't be. Those decentralised solutions that currently lie on the fringes of society need to be adopted as global standards, pushed through by governments if necessary (and clearly it is), to ensure that Big Money can't possibly slurp your data, because Big Money no longer exists.

There's your solution. Wipe out corporatocracy, not open society.

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Pint

Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

Tom you fool (or youngster). Pizza should be taken with beer!

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Headmaster

Re: "It's compliemtary. It's not free." Words to *always* keep in mind.

"For I am Ozymandias, King of Kings. See my works and tremble"

It should be

"Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair".

FTFY, for once entirely appropriately.

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Re: Wait a minute...

There will ALWAYS be control. It is simply human nature. If you don't take control, someone else will. The 1% are probably trying to close off the walled garden so they can just hash it out among themselves.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

I have no idea how effective advertising is.

I do know that Unilever has groups of people measuring exactly that, and suspect other similar companies do the same.

Unilever spends billions.

I view it as a sort of 'peacock' style evolution.

If you spend nothing, you lose, if you spend, you needs to spend about the same as your competiors (certerus paribus) otherwise you lose.

So the displays slowly grow until they restrict the ability to do something more useful, like product development.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

Most ads are about brand awareness and long term impression than immediate sales. Sure you hook a few with your latest deal (cos we all like a bargain) but it's still about the long term.

The companies advertising don't do it for fun, and have a fairly decent set of analytics to measure the effectiveness.

The problem then becomes in making sure your brand is better remembered than the opposition. The rest is just an arms race. For which Feckbook, Gobble et al are eternally grateful.

The most effective advertising is when people don't even realise they've been had. Which is a large chunk of the population.

Note also how careful shops are in directing you round, and how much companies pay to get a certain product on exactly the right spot on the shelf. A difference of up or down one shelf, or being beside the right or wrong product, can have a large impact on sales. All carefully choreographed.

Always makes me smile when people say none of this has never affected them. So naive. We never like to think we've been manipulated. But the reality is most have been in some way.

(Day job has been in Promotional Merchandise for donkeys years so have a vague idea about the subject)

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Re: Advertising is clever, subliminal.

@BlockChainToo +1 from me for that. What advertising agencies really dont; want people to realise, IMHO, is that if all advertising stopped with immediate effect, people would still be buying stuff.. They'd still be buying roughly the same monetary amount of stuff, because of the way the economic system works. In short, advertising as a whole is mainly a job employment scheme for people in the advertising industry, at consumer expense.

What advertising does best for those with products to sell is to (a) initially inform folk of the presence of new products available to buy and (b) occasionally shift customer spend from one product to another. Whilst, yes, there is data that shows that advertising can be 'effective', what one needs to know is what is actually meant by 'effective' in that context. An advertisers notion of 'effective' may not be the same as that of a retailer or a consumer, who may be using different metrics. and even if 'effective' is there a causal link? Hmmmnn

Sometimes the local shops stock odd brands one generally doesn't hear of, and some of them are pretty good, and thus get not only an initial sale out of curiosity from me, but repeat sales with no advertising involved simply because they are available to try and of adequate or good quality. Advertising isn't essential - and its utility is overblown, IMHO.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

@John Crisp

Yup.

As bright and wonderful as we all like to think we are it (the arrangement of shops) does work.

This is why I (and many others I suspect) can't step foot in a tesco (or similar) without a 30-50 quid minimum spend. Regardless of what you go in for you double up with "ooh BOGOF" and the various things on the end of the rows on offer.

It's not coincidence that the bottles of whisky and gin that have enough money off them to tempt you, are the one's you'll see even if you don't travel to the booze aisles.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don't know which half."

- John Wanamaker

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

@BlockchainToo

Thanks - that's the most relevant comment of all in this debate. I've written a piece about this (predates this one), but we haven't run it yet.

Consider that most people block out ads (and many run ad-blockers), and that behavioural targeting is soooo good, I get targeted with Club18-30 holidays, while students get targeted with retirement ads from Saga. The whole business is borked - something Zuckerberg can't admit - or at least nowhere near as effective as he wants us to believe.

The 2016 Election was a freak result, but I think this might have had more to do with it:

https://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/05/politics/trump-clinton-debate-prep/index.html - in fact, have a look at Clinton's campaign schedule for the final month.

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Re: don't worry, our ads aren't as effective as we told you

Ah but FaceBook's adverts for their own advertising system is obviously very effective.

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Re: Worry, our data aren't as effective as we told you

"You don't even need to click on an ad, or buy anything. Advertising is clever, subliminal."

It's not going to be particularly subliminal if I never see the ad coz my ad blocker is working. Maybe the clever advert can convince my ad blocker to buy stuff, but my ad blocker doesn't have a credit card, bank account, or wallet, so I doubt it's gonna be buying anything any time soon.

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Re: "It's compliemtary. It's not free." Words to *always* keep in mind.

"Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair".

Maybe it was a mistranslation, and should have been "Look on my feet, ye mighty, and despair."

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ICO is go!

7:10pm on a Friday night and the court finally grants a warrant to the ICO. I hope they break down the doors with an axe tonight but I suspect the two CA QCs kicked it into next week as they'd aimed to.

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Re: ICO is go!

Mission accomplished. All documents have been removed by now. The delivery vans were running crates overtime for the last 48h. The pictures are all over the media. Very cute crates. Big ones. In fact, I want to know who is their crate supplier - I would like to get some of these.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ICO is go!

The reason it took so long is that Cambridge analytica argued that since Facebook told them to delete the data there is nothing for them to see and they also offered to supply them what data they had by Monday so I've got a nice empty bag of popcorn for the outcome of that. One could argue that it has all panned out perfectly as planned for the government and team leave.

This is rather interesting though,

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/cambridge-analytica-bragged-we-have-vast-data-for-brexit-vote-a3797441.html

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Re: ICO is go!

These crates? Higher resolution: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DYuxj8XWkAA0KdJ.jpg

More importantly, who are those guys moving the crates? Nix and Oakes? Do they even have employees? :)

Interesting, but I have a feeling this CYA exercise is a mere sideshow in the grand scheme.

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Black Helicopters

Follow the crates!

@troland

These Crates? The side of one of those crates appears to to be marked "Teacrate plc"

https://www.teacrate.com/

Let's hope the "ico." investigators are not too late - shirley, there is more than a whiff of suspicion that the documents that were removed from the site could be connected with the investigation, in which case they could apply to the courts to get a warrant to serve on the crate supplier to reveal who hired those crates and the destination

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Re: ICO is go!

"The pictures are all over the media. Very cute crates. Big ones. In fact, I want to know who is their crate supplier - I would like to get some of these."

Well that bit of subliminal advertising worked out well then.

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Thanks

At least people are now addressing the Zuckerphant in the room. To be honest I would have expected the Antisocial Network CEO to have lawyered up and taken advice.

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Re: Thanks

Why stop with the Zucc? Let's get Tim nice but Berners-Lee in for a chat.

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Re: Thanks

I assume he did lawyer up, hence the long silence.

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Coat

Criminality...

The new normal.

Picking this bloke's pocket.

Because I can...

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Re: Criminality...

More like, "Because he never said I couldn't...."

They take it as read that if you sign up, you and everything you pass them is there's to do as they wish. As a photographer, I and many I know we utterly hate social media but we have no choice but to use it to a greater or lesser extent. The second we upload an image, the social media networks claim they can do whatever they like short of claiming copyright. FB has 2 billion users, FB can use any picture they're given and make an advert using it on their network and you won't get a penny. However if we don't engage with social media, someone else will and we won't get the potential reach and possible new customers and we can't make a decent living. They have creatives, photographers, artists, designers and musicians over a barrel and they know it.

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Re: Criminality...

We all know it's worse than that.

They've not done it because people didn't say no. People *explicitly* said yes. They (me included, naturally) just have a tendency to not read what we are agreeing to.

We all know they've acted within terms agreed to, the legality of those terms is the bit yet to be decided.

When you install either FB or FB messenger on your phone, you're plagued with helpful suggestions to "let us help find your friends online" type messages (and with messenger it's automatically granted, you can say "no" to letting it act as your text messaging app, but not to the "scrape your phone" bit). Click yes and get your phone scraped for the lot. They have ALL of your contacts, texts and anything else stored on your phone (US journo recently did a data request from FB to find they had literally every text message she's ever sent). It might not be legal, but they do ask permission, in the t's and c's that are rarely ever read, and people happily oblige.

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Anonymous Coward

"but we have no choice but to use it to a greater or lesser extent"

Maybe - the key is "lesser extent". If you need a FB presence for your job, use it just for that. Limit what you post, knowing you lose most control of it. Strip images of any metadata (but copyright) before uploading. Resize them at just the right resolution for their intended on-site use, sharpen for screen, and deliver in sRGB, good to display on any screen, but less useful elsewhere.

Add a watermark, FB is not liable if *other* users remove it and upload, but it can't remove it itself (although it tried: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/05/29/facebook_photo_engineer_photograph_watermarks/), it's not a strong protection, but it's a Copyright Act and DMCA violation removing it (and outside US may be a violation also, FB lost already a similar case in Germany), easier to pursue illegal uses, if you like.

Of course, use the ones you can afford to lose, still giving a decent showcase of your work.

Engage with customers, if needed, but nothing else, especially, don't mix it with anything personal. It's, of course, far better if you have separate addresses and telephone numbers for your job and personal life.

Use it to drive customers to your own website, hopefully hosted on systems you have a great degree of control on how your data is used.

Anyway, it's that " someone else will and we won't get the potential reach and possible new customers" that will chain you - it's not so true. I trust more a photographer with a good portfolio on his or her professional laid out site, than someone with a FB page...

At that point, it may be more important to rank well in search engines for your area, and ensure visitor are "captured" by your site and services/products (and prices).

Use socials - if you need to - don't let them use you. Know your rights.

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Anonymous Coward

Regulators to the Rescue (of Zuck)!

Don't worry - Zuck is open to regulation, even looking forward to it! And why wouldn't he? His lobbyists will write the regulations, the cheaply whored-out congresscritters will pass them, and then all of the stuff people are squirming about today will suddenly be just fine because it's Officially The Law now. We live in a world that has substituted philosophy and ethics with rules compliance, and the rules are enacted by the lowest form of ignorant scum (politicians).

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Re: Regulators to the Rescue (of Zuck)!

"His lobbyists will write the regulations, the cheaply whored-out congresscritters will pass them, and then all of the stuff people are squirming about today will suddenly be just fine because it's Officially The Law now."

Ah. The view from the US. The laws Congress pass apply to the whole world.

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Anonymous Coward

We live in a world that has substituted philosophy and ethics with rules compliance

I could grudgingly accept even this were the rules applied to everyone equally. Sadly, Orwell was right. Some people ARE more equal than others.

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