Facebook Should Consider a ‘Why Me?’ Button

The internet giant has plenty of problems to fix. Andrew Ross Sorkin thinks explaining why particular ads are presented to users would be a good start.

Comments: 31

  1. A variant of this should be implemented for all advertising. Advertisers manipulate. Their chief job should be to inform. Their lack of respect for those they seek to manipulate is palpable. That they most often don’t believe their audience deserves dignity is evident. The variant should take whatever form it takes to demonstrate respect for their audience(s).

  2. The whole ‘targeted’ advertising concept is creepy and doesn’t even work right. 90% of the time the ad targets a product I’ve already bought or decided specifically not to buy. But yet there it is every time I sign in to a website: an ad for golf clubs I already bought 2 months ago. I’m afraid this younger generation has accepted the fact that they live in a brave new world without privacy. Many are unconcerned that companies have specifically taken our most private information and then blatantly failed to protect it. Like Equifax of course. Or Target. Or Facebook. Or the IRS. Need I go on? It’s too late now to put the toothpaste back in the tube. My private information is now all over the internet as is yours. Perhaps we can ‘save’ the next generation from the obliteration of their privacy?

  3. Considering how much information about their kids many parents post online from before they're even born, I doubt future generations are being protected very much by the current ones.

  4. That is so true. I get ads for products I've already bought. For the past few weeks I am being targeted by an ad on Facebook for a Fitbit product that I just bought. I think it is now starting to be frustrating to see the same ad over and over again. But I use an ad blocker that helps alleviate some of these problems. Sure, Facebook and Google and Amazon have a lot of my info, but at least I don't get pestered by targeted ads due to said info. I can stay sane while browsing the web, even if some slip through the cracks. I think more of us should aggressively use ad blockers. Cut the gravy train and this will have a visible impact on the bottom line of these companies and their tactics. I can already see this happening. More and more websites are hassling users to disable ad blockers, to the point of making the website unusable if you don't. This is harassment as I do not see the point of this. I will never look nor click these ads anyway. So why bother with forcing me to unblock them if I don't interact with them. In such cases, I take extra pains to block their anti-adblock techniques. An anti-adblock-blocker, if you will. This arms race will continue but I hope this teaches the nasty advertisers a lesson.

  5. I also use an ad blocker. It's not that I mind ads per se. But...I've been to web sites where the content is unreadable because of the ads. Or multiple video ads start playing at the same time, creating total cacophony. Or the ads aren't vetted proprely and may contain various types of viruses. And so on. The thing is, if they'd send people with ad blockers to a survey where we can tell them what it would take to remove the blocker, I'd be happy to tell them. Instead they assume I don't realize that they depend on the ads for revenue and ask me to please unblock. Nope. Not happening until they actually address the issues that make me want the ad blocker in the first place.

  6. I feel a bit about the critiques of Facebook and other media, including the New York Times, which make their living off commercial advertising: the marketing of information, intelligence, personal opinions as a commercial product is demeaning and self defeating. It's way beyond protecting our personal data on the web, it's a view of citizens and souls as us as greedy robotic consumers, units in an economic scheme. this scheme sees everything as grist for the commercial mill. No wonder our politics are as they are, and our relationships with each other as they are in the whole culture. It always was about greed in a capitalist system, more more more. As the Dalai Lama said, "Very shortsighted." As an elder, I fault us for not ringing the bell slowly more loudly, long ago, to note the passing of the idea of the common good, our commonality beyond our differences. These kids running the web are simply our progeny, and the adults we trusted, like the Times and other print media sources of impartial information and thought, follow suit.

  7. Can we really trust the White House, Congress, Religious Organizations, news media, Google, online retailers, credit agencies, stock market, school administrators, military institutions, Facebook, spouses, etc..to do the right thing and be above board and respectful to us.... It would be interesting for the NYC to find 100 people or businesses or organizations or a combination of these that people believe are trustworthy . How can any society exist when no one is willing to believe what is said yet can't take the time or have the ability to verify what they read and hear?

  8. It’s not just Facebook that should take this suggestion. Early this morning I was being shown a mortgage ad on my NYT app but then I read an article in the Travel section. Can you guess what ad am I seeing now? Yep. One for a cruise line.

  9. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

  10. Although Facebook targets me with ads that occasionally seem telepathic, often Facebook is laughably wrong. Television and print advertising were far less precisely targeted. But I learned to ignore breakfast cereal ads when I was a kid, and I can ignore ads for retirement homes and pre-planned funerals now.

  11. My own solution to Facebook is to simply not use it. And I really don't think my life is the least bit compromised.

  12. That's very true. However if you were one of the original users then this would be a perfect option. When I started using Facebook you could only get an account if you were in college or grad school. It was intended to be Linked In. It would be great to be able to effectively control the information they already have about me.

  13. I have another button: Why Facebook? Given that they have been reckless at best and unscrupulous at worst with users' personal data, maybe it's time for people to realize that there is a life without Facebook. Facebook is not your "friend."

  14. A better way to deal with this would be to set up a sub-system wherein users would opt-in based on their interests and get paid for the use of their data. Opt-in interest data is the holy grail for marketing professionals and they pay for it lavishly. Facebook tries to deduce interest related data from social interaction and then sells the data, keeping all the profits. If Facebook, or an as yet to be created social networking app would share the wealth with the users whose data is being sold, it would greatly reduce the ill will of the users, and reap large piles of gold. I am talking to you, young tech entrepreneurs.

  15. I closed my Facebook and Twitter accounts two weeks ago, and don't plan on looking back. If someone cares enough about me to communicate then it'll have to be by telephone, email, or card in the mail. There is so much untruth spoken in social media that along with the data sharing going on, it's just not worth it for me, and I don't see why more people aren't dumping Facebook in particular.

  16. Yes, we can decide not to use Facebook or it's other properties. Yes, we can decide that we don't want to work for Zuckerberg (by giving him our data and blanket control over it). Yes, a "why me" button would be neat to see how things have been decided - might allow us to better protect our own privacy (and not expect Zuckerberg to do it unless forced) and be able to contest wrong data (hey, that's not me in that photo at the beach though that might help FB too) and maybe boycott vendors who go too far. But Standard Oil was broken up and Roosevelt "ruined" its business model. Time for Facebook's business model to be "broken" too? Maybe Facebook should be prevented from buying companies in, say, the healthcare market to prevent them from getting access to tons of our medical data too. Zuckerberg has shown himself mealy mouthed when committing to changes and maybe saying just enough to keep regulation at bay without meaningful changes that protect users. Protecting users is counter to the business model which needs more data always and more pin-pointed use of it.

  17. Years ago I sent an email to a friend named Andrew Gay. Within minutes I started receiving ads for gay escort services, gay literature, etc. Within minutes I decided to avoid Google, (I use DuckDuckGo, Tor, etc). I have never to used Facebook, and so on. I've never bought anything from Amazon. I have survived without apparent damage. It's not about where you buy your sweaters or your soap: Our political system revolves around advertising and this hurts us financially and it has destroyed our democracy. We are so accustomed to being lied to that our electorate voted in the world's foremost liar simply because they no longer mind being lied to. That's the result of the mindset which says: "Oh! Haha! That just the world we live in!" It's not the world I live in. As many have pointed out, consumers are not the customers of television, or social media, we are its product. We are what they sell. And once they've bought you, they expect a return on their investment. They own you. Are you comfortable with that?

  18. Brilliant suggestion. Kind of reminds me of when David Pogue was a colleague of Mr. Sorkin's and vented about Verizon charging users for a minute when a telemarketer's robot disconnected while the outgoing message was playing. That is, a great, simple, fair idea ... that has zero "chances" and I suspect that the columnist knows it. (He's too smart not to, and I'm not being cynical, I don't think - just realistic.) As others have said - but just as 40%+ of the American voters in 2016 plunked for Mr. Trump, it BEARS REPEATING - Facebook is NOT!! "partner" with its users. It's PARTNER with its advertisers. If TV had tilted as far in the same direction years ago, it would not have "taken off." Maybe, we'd have a BBC model - for better or worse - but treating one's "users" with the kind of borderline contempt that FB gives them is (a) what you'd expect from a near-monopoly [think cable company]; and (b) unsustainable. There's a reason why TOS are "opaque!" Since the "plain English" translation is "We reserve the right to do just about anything with you and anything we can find out about you," ... NOBODY would sign such a thing if it were that clear. What Mr. Sorkin wants is like that - So, the popup (if it's worth a darn) says, "You're seeing this ad because we saw - did you know we could see another browser tab?! - you clicked on Breitbart or MoveOn." IF ONLY! people had known how cavalier FB was back in 2016 - and probably still is! You can ask! but they'll never tell!!

  19. Far be it from me to defend Facebook, but let's not forget that on the privacy front, Google is just as bad as Facebook and there are a few other major players in the nosiness business. Remedies to protect privacy should not just address Facebook but the whole tech industry --everyone who ever gathers, compiles, sells and shares information about you.

  20. As a marketer, this kind of button would be problematic. First, we use Facebook "interests" that are very general, and we don't have a ton of insight into exactly what got you bucketed into that audience, and sentiment can make this tricky (i.e. if you post something ripping a show apart, you could get bucketed into an interest audience for that show". The description that you want included in "Why Me?" might not be brand safe, and thus cause advertisers to move away from using these audiences. Second, if we pass in an audience from a CRM list, a site tag (Facebook Custom Audience Pixel), etc - we are not telling Facebook exactly what inputs are used to segment that audience. We could segment an audience based on what they purchased, browsed, engaged with, etc - but we pass it into Facebook as "Audience #12345", so I'm not sure what they would show for "Why me?". Would marketers need to detail what attributes define each of our audiences? Lastly, consumers need to get a grip on reality. Your data is (for the most part) anonymized. You target an audience in aggregate based on attributes, not individuals. There is a misconception among consumers that limiting the usage of your data (which is really not "yours") is going to result in less ads being served to you. We're going to target you regardless, utilizing data just means the ad will be more relevant.

  21. Mr. Sorkin points out all (?) of the scary ways FB is/was able to target people, ... and one can only wish that FB was "scared enough" to take his advice. But, let's get real for a minute or 2. I'm sure I'm not the only one to wonder whether Amazon is getting DJT's "special handling" because its founder is the owner of the Washington Post, no friend of the President. But why would DJT - in this instance - bite the hand that fed him - ESPECIALLY if "on some planet," he imagines himself standing for re-election in 2020. That is, FB may not have "put him over the top," ... but maybe it DID! So, you can't look to the GOP for pressure on FB that might force their hand the tiniest bit. More and more, I look across the pond and ADMIRE our European friends for legislating about privacy BEFORE (?) social media and the like have sullied life there as much as they have in our country. I believe that really is the only way to deal with this elephant-and-the-ants parable - wherever Jumbo walks, thousands die, and dialing it down a tad, that's exactly what's happening re Facebook. And Mr. Sorkin is showing off a little - NOBODY would access the information he details more than once. Intelligent users would bail at that point! What's needed IS a "plain English" "why we're free" pop-up - one that spells out the gist of Mr. Sorkin's points." I think it's as likely that FB would do this voluntarily as McD would provide calorie counts, but it would be the right thing for them to do!

  22. I think the "Why Me?" button is stupid. It gives me the impression that we have no choice but to use Facebook forever. Aren't we in America? Can't another person or company build something better? More secure? Then, people will have the choice to go and use that and Facebook will be forced to step up its game. Or, just don't use Facebook anymore. We have a choice and we are a country built on competition.

  23. Yes, that is also something we should actively consider and strive for. But in the meantime, Facebook is not going anywhere anytime soon. So, it is also reasonable to ask Facebook to fix some of its broken systems. So in that sense, a "Why Me?" button seems like a good first step.

  24. If only my grandma could figure out how to really tell the difference between who are the good actors and who are the bad actors. Choice is great as long as it doesn't prey on certain populations.

  25. Sure, Facebook needs to fix its broken system. But a "Why Me?" button would just be yet another way for people to waste more time on Facebook. Facebook is not going to publsh an answer like, "because we are being paid money to violate your privacy" and even if they give a safe answer about our demographic category or because we like shoe shopping. So what? I need to click a button on Facebook to know how old I am or that I was shopping for a new pair of shoes for spring the other day?

  26. All retail business should be limited on data they may collect and maintain on customers and users to the minimum. At an Amazon, accounting must keep a record from verifying my payment to shipping address until delivery and guarantee ends. Records go off-line, kept as required by statutes of limitation, and always under seal in-house. The Warehouse need only know to ship (catalog numbers ####) to an address and stock has fallen. Minute-by-minute totals of aggregate sales, that means that items have been shipped. Period -goes to other departments. Thirty to 90 days later, all records beyond sealed files that ### were sent to address n and reported received by shipper and buyer - self destruct after 5 years or so. Purchasing and marketing needs to know item1 is popular, stock is either high or low, triggering reorder, or that only 1 of 1,000 item 2s out of 1,000 in stock have sold in a year. When I went to a bookshop and the owner said “I hate it, but you’ll love it”, I had no problem with brain-stored data - even a list that says I preordered a book, and I’m 10th in line if they get shorted. I spent time there, had an ongoing social relationship. But bigbox.com keeps personal records on-line forever, sells and trades personal data and always tells me what I’ll want to buy. Its usually very very wrong too.

  27. Brilliant! Google should do this as well. In fact, the "why me" button should be made the cornerstone requirement as the trade-off for co-opting user data in any future legislative act designed to patrol tech companies.

  28. Facebook already has a button like this. If you click the three dots on the top right of the ad, you'll see an option "Why am I seeing this?". Clicking that will provide some insight. For example: "One reason you're seeing this ad is that _______ wants to reach people who engaged with them or their content."

  29. Read the article...

  30. Fair enough, I see this was mentioned.

  31. Yikes, I've never been happier I don't do Facebook. Of course, I'm an older retired person so I don't need to have all the contacts and platforms that working people do. In addition to invading your privacy, Facebook, and many other applications, is making decisions for you about what you want to share, with whom, and when; what you want to see, do, or buy or even just learn about online. Hey, people, we are as a culture (perhaps as a species) losing the ability to make such basic everyday choices for ourselves. Worried about the Singularity? Turn off these apps! Is convenience worth losing our autonomy?