Facebook/Meta Asks: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice To Die?” | Defector

Given the company’s character and scale and long ethical rap sheet, it is reasonable to construe every message issued by the company formerly known as Facebook as a threat. The company surely doesn’t intend this, but the story of the company’s growth and success has by now been overtaken by the sum of the many, many catastrophic things that it didn’t intend or just didn’t anticipate or anyway didn’t care enough to do anything about until people noticed that the company was facilitating genocidal regimes abroad and speeding the dissociative mental breakdown of basically everyone using their technology pretty much everywhere that technology is used. When people started yelling at the company about all that, Facebook changed its name. It’s called Meta, now.

The core business, which is surveillance-driven digital advertising, is still the same, and remains preposterously profitable. Stories about the company’s disastrous last fiscal quarter, in which news of declining users caused Meta’s stock to crash, also noted that the company’s revenues were $33.7 billion, a 20 percent increase year over year; the company turned a profit of $10.3 billion. That massive profit was slightly below projections, though, in large part because Meta spent $10 billion building out its capacities in the metaverse, a wholly virtual and not yet real virtual reality gambit. When and if ever the metaverse matches the experience depicted in the company’s promotional materials, it will afford users the opportunity to experience what it would be like to attend a work meeting on their home computer, or in one of the Sims games. At some point after that, the metaverse might offer an experience that was much more nuanced without being any less virtual—the opportunity to pay in cryptocurrency (which will have been purchased with actual money) for a virtual espresso that your virtual avatar can enjoy while you yourself sit somewhere in your hilarious and unoptimized human body, wearing VR goggles and feeling faintly carsick. We are not quite there yet, though.

But if you were where Meta currently is, which is presiding over a hugely profitable but ungovernable, unwieldy, widely detested derangement engine ruled by a sociopathic algorithm and an overbearing cadre of psychotic power users, reviled and abandoned by younger users and in every sense but the most literal a haunted space station overrun by goblins and skunks, you too would want to live in the future. There was something poignant about Facebook’s insistence, in the last days before the Meta pivot, that it was actually a place for people to find other people and enrich their lives in so doing—poignant because the site was quite obviously by then a place where lonely retirees turn into blood-and-soil fascists, and also because Facebook as a company had long seemed so wildly indifferent to the experience of the people using it.

The company’s new presentation, though, is noticeably sweatier and darker. This is only partially because the technology that the company is touting doesn’t really exist yet. The true darkness of it all is latent in the sales pitch, which amounts to an admission that the old reality—the haunted space station that generates the profits and luridly deranges America’s aunts—is beyond salvaging. There are just too many goblins and skunks running around, for reasons that are not really worth going into, everyone’s at fault if you think about it and there’s no sense in laying blame and so on. It’s regrettable, but what are you going to do? Try to fix any of it?

The ambitions of our reigning tech lords tend to be ridiculous and tacky—imagine, if you dare, a reality roughly as cheesy and brutal as ours, laid haphazardly over the top of this one, with the same people in charge—but there is also something ominous about the specific ways and places in which their powerful imaginations fail. The hyped-up rhetoric about Saving The World with the wonder-working power of cryptocurrency or other web3 gimcrackery is in some ways just familiar Silicon Valley noise, the lorem ipsum text swapped in for “to profit” under the Why heading on everything these people do. But while it is clear what these interests want, which is to continue to control a large and growing amount of money and power and impunity, it is also clear that they have moved on from the systems in which the rest of humanity is left to grind it out. That all is dying, and will be left to die. The new system will have a virtual nightclub in it, where you can buy drinks that you cannot in point of fact actually drink.

Anyway, this is all kind of a long way of explaining how Meta chose to make and air this advertisement for itself during the Super Bowl on Sunday:

The ad is absolutely state of the art, they picked a fantastic song to tie it together, and this vision of the metaverse is objectively a more appealing one than Mark Zuckerberg pitched late last year, which was a virtual space in which Zuckerberg himself slipped into an avatar that looked at most 10 percent more uncanny than he does in real life and then answered text messages. That this advertisement is so well-made, though, only serves to underline what an astonishingly bleak and hopeless vision is for sale, here. Everything you have and everyone you care about will be taken from you by forces beyond your control, the ad says. You will be surplus to requirements, first fungible and ridiculous and then literally disposable. You will lose everything. Which is notably a departure from the normal types of Super Bowl ads, which as recently as last decade were 1) Draft Horse Salutes A Troop and 2) Hot Babe Eats A Hamburger.

The ostensible selling point here comes in the back third. You may get rescued from the trash compactor, maybe. And you also might get a job, and you may, should you happen to put on the right pair of VR goggles, be able to experience a simulation of the world that you remember and see the absent friends that you miss, and so enjoy something like the life you once had, albeit all by yourself and only until the goggles are removed. That’s the product, but also that’s the threat.

It is unwise to read too much into any advertisement, let alone one prominently featuring Chuck E. Cheese–style animatronics. Also it is axiomatic that you will never see a commercial for anything that is actually and authentically liberating while watching the Super Bowl; that space is just too expensive, and too valuable, for anything but the institutions invested in the opposite of liberation to be able to afford access to it. But there is something infinitely bleak in seeing a company’s ambitions laid out as plainly and mercilessly as this. The world we’ve made is going to use you up, they say, but the next one might be kinder. It’s a lot easier to trust the first half than the second.

Source: Facebook/Meta Asks: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice To Die?” | Defector

Student’s School Apps Are Sharing Data With Third Parties

Over the past year, we’ve seen schools shift to digital services at an unprecedented rate as a way to educate kids safely during the covid-19 pandemic. We’ve also seen these digital tools slurp up these kid’s data at a similarly unprecedented rate, suffer massive breaches, and generally handle student’s personal information with a lot less care than they should.

Case in point: A new report published Tuesday by the tech-focused nonprofit Me2B Alliance found the majority of school utility apps were sharing some amount of student data with third-party marketing companies. The Me2B team surveyed a few dozen so-called “utility” apps for school districts—the kind that students and parents download to, say, review their school’s calendar or bussing schedules—and found roughly 60% of them sharing everything from a student’s location to their entire contact list, to their phone’s mobile ad identifiers, all with companies these students and their parents likely never heard of.

In order to figure out what kind of data these apps were sharing, Me2B analyzed the software development kits (or SDKs) that these apps came packaged with. While SDks can do all sorts of things, these little libraries of code often help developers monetize their free-to-download apps by sharing some sort of data with third-party ad networks. Facebook has some super popular SDKs, as does Google. Of the 73 apps surveyed in the report, there were 486 total SDKs throughout—with an average of just over 10 SDKs per app surveyed.

Of that 486 total bits of code, nearly 63% (306) were owned and operated by either Facebook or Google. The rest of those SDKs were sharing data with some lesser-known third parties, with names like AdColony and Admob.

But the data sharing didn’t stop there. As the report points out, these lesser-known SDKs would often share the data pulled from these student apps with dozens—if not hundreds—of other little-known third parties. What’s interesting here is that these SDKs, in particular, were found abundantly in Android apps, but way fewer iOS apps ended up bringing these pieces of tech onboard (91% versus 26%, respectively).

There are a few reasons why this might be the case. First, even if Apple isn’t always careful about following its own privacy rules, the company does set a certain standard that every iOS developer needs to follow, particularly when it comes to tracking and targeting the people using their apps. Most recently, Apple turned this up to 11 by mandating App Tracking Transparency (ATT) reports for the apps in its store, which literally request a user’s permission in order to track their activity outside of the app.

Even though Android does have its own review process for apps, historically, we’ve seen some insecure apps slip through the cracks and onto countless people’s devices. Also, there’s a good chance that many apps developed for Android are beaming some degree of data right back to Google.

And with Apple slowly tightening its standards surrounding ATT, it’s possible that the divide between the two OS’s will only keep broadening—which leaves student’s data stuck in the middle.

Source: Student’s School Apps Are Sharing Data With Third Parties

Facebook Bans Honest Signal Ads on Instagram

A series of Instagram ads run by the privacy-positive platform Signal got the messaging app booted from the former’s ad platform, according to a blog post Signal published on Tuesday. The ads were meant to show users the bevy of data that Instagram and its parent company Facebook collects on users, by… targeting those users using Instagram’s own adtech tools.

The actual idea behind the ad campaign is pretty simple. Because Instagram and Facebook share the same ad platform, any data that gets hoovered up while you’re scrolling your Insta or Facebook feeds gets fed into the same cesspool of data, which can be used to target you on either platform later.

Across each of these platforms, you’re also able to target people using a nearly infinite array of data points collected by Facebook’s herd of properties. That data includes basic details, like your age or what city you might live in. It may also include more granular points: say, whether you’re looking for a new home, whether you’re single, or whether you’re really into energy drinks.

Illustration for article titled Signal Tries to Run the Most Honest Facebook Ad Campaign Ever, Immediately Gets Banned [Updated]
Graphic: Signal

Based on this kind of minute data, Signal was able to create some super-targeted ads that were branded with the exact targeting specs that Signal used. If an ad was targeted towards K-pop fans, the ad said so. If the ad was targeted towards a single person, the ad said so. And if the ad was targeted towards London-based divorcees with degrees in art history, the ad said so.

Apparently, Facebook wasn’t a fan of this sort of transparency into its system. While the company hasn’t yet responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment, Signal’s blog post says that the ad account used to run these ads was shut down before these ads could reach their target audiences. Personally, I think that’s a shame—I’d have loved to see an ad that showed what Instagram really thinks of me.

Update 1 p.m. ET, May 5: In response to Signal’s blog, Facebook denied that it suspended Signal’s account for running the ads and accused the organization of pulling a PR “stunt.”

“This is a stunt by Signal, who never even tried to actually run these ads — and we didn’t shut down their ad account for trying to do so,” Facebook said. “If Signal had tried to run the ads, a couple of them would have been rejected because our advertising policies prohibit ads that assert that you have a specific medical condition or sexual orientation, as Signal should know. But of course, running the ads was never their goal — it was about getting publicity.”

Signal, in turn, refuted Facebook’s claims, saying on Twitter, “We absolutely did try to run these. The ads were rejected, and Facebook disabled our ad account. These are real screenshots, as Facebook should know.”

We’ve reached out to both Facebook and Signal for further information and will update when it becomes available.

Source: Facebook Bans Honest Signal Ads on Instagram

Facebook Knowingly Profited Off Junk Ad Efficacy Estimates, Lawsuit Claims

Facebook, which along with Google accounts for around 60% of advertiser spending online, has knowingly built some of its astonishing success on incorrect data, newly unsealed court documents allege. Incidentally, this may pose a problem for a business which generates of its revenue from selling ads.

In a nutshell, this class action suit, which was first filed back , alleges that Facebook massaged figures for “Potential Reach”—an estimate that Facebook gives its advertisers for the number of people that might see their ad—to goad advertisers into spending more money on the platform, all in the hopes of reaching the people that Facebook had promised. These filings detail that some of Facebook’s top brass, including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, were fully aware that the company spent years exaggerating the number of eyeballs its advertisers could reach.

As by the Financial Times, the suit claims that when Facebook’s rank-and-file proposed internal fixes for these inflated figures, senior executives repeatedly brushed them off on the grounds that their solutions would cut into the company’s all-important ad revenue.

Thanks to these unsealed filings, we know just how inflated some of those figures were. Here’s an example: in 2018, Facebook its advertisers that it had a Potential Reach of 230 million adults across the U.S., out of the 250 million adults that were counted by U.S. census data that year. But according to a 2018 , only about 68% (or 170 million adults) actually use the platform at all. Sandberg acknowledged in an internal email that “she’d known about problems with Potential Reach for years.” But she repeatedly shot down employee’s attempts to rectify those figures, according to the filing.

Internally, employees acknowledged that while the product bills
itself as an estimate for how many “” your ad might reach, it is, at best, an estimate for the number of accounts—including the untold numbers of and . Some employees even ran the numbers in 2018, just to see what would happen if known duplicate accounts were cut out of Potential Reach, and saw a 10% drop in the numbers advertisers were given. Facebook chose not to cut them. When one of the product managers on the Potential Reach team later suggested tweaking the way they talked about these figures—like, say, replacing the word “people” with the word “accounts”—his suggestion was shot down over worries about the “significant” impact it might have on Facebook’s ad revenue. Per the suit, the manager responded that “it’s revenue we should have never made given the fact it’s based on wrong data.”

In a lot of ways, this case mirrors another high-profile advertiser suit that hit the company in 2016 alleging Facebook some serious problems with the metrics for its video ads for the sake of pulling down more money from those video ad partners. In 2019, Facebook settled the claim for a $40 million dollar sum that, as others have pointed out, is pretty much to a company that earns of dollars in ad revenue per year.

And apparently, Facebook didn’t learn much from that slap on the wrist. When it comes to the ongoing problems with Potential Reach, the suit points out that numbers Facebook continues to give its advertisers make even less sense, like telling them it can reach “100 million” 18-to-34 year old’s across the country. Census data shows there’s in fact of them—and not all of them use Facebook.

Both and on , the company’s argued that these metrics are meant to be interpreted as estimates, not gospel. But internally, per the new filings, the company admitted that Potential Reach was “arguably the single most important number” that advertisers relied on when deciding whether to put their ad bucks down onto Facebook’s platform in the first place.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment, and will update here when we hear back.

 

Source: Facebook Knowingly Profited Off Junk Ad Efficacy Estimates, Lawsuit Claims

The One Thing to Know About the Texas–Google Antitrust Lawsuit

Among all of the antitrust probes facing Google right now, the case dropped on Wednesday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stands out for a few reasons. First, it focuses on the tech giant’s dominance in digital ads, rather than focusing on search the way that the Justice Department and more than 30 states have in their own recent cases. Second, it’s coming from an attorney general facing his own string of scandals. And third, despite said scandals, it does a really, really good job of breaking down exactly how Google became the digital ad behemoth that put it on regulators’ radars.

There are plenty of juicy details in the 130-page lawsuit—Google and Facebook did what with WhatsApp users’ data?—but we’re going to focus on just a few of the shadiest ways that Google secured its dominance over the years.

So what’s the tl;dr of the Texas case against Google?

The short version is that, according to the lawsuit, Google spent the past decade systematically dominating both sides of the ad market: it made deals that neither advertisers nor web publishers could refuse, and when that didn’t work, it forced their hand. The company then used its outsized role in both of these markets to milk the players involved for billions of dollars, building the Google ad empire we know today at the expense of the rest of the internet.

The suit does a really good job of laying out exactly how we got here—but explaining that means explaining exactly how ads get served online. So if you’ll indulge me for a few minutes…

Ugh, fine, go ahead.

Thanks. Personally, I’m a visual learner, so I’ve always found it useful to follow along with a chart like this one. (Yes, I know it looks like maniacal nonsense, but stay with me.)

What you need to know is that large web publishers—the technical name for any site across the web with ad space to sell, from CNN to the New York Times, to Gizmodo dot com—rely on a specific intermediary called an “ad server” to help them get the biggest (ad dollar) bang for their (ad real estate) buck. The specifics behind the way this pricing happens are way too boring to explain, but what you need to know is that publishers typically stick with one ad server to manage their specific ad real estate—and they stick with that server for the long haul since switching over to a new one can disrupt the flow of ad dollars that publishers desperately need.

One of the primary jobs of an ad server is scooping up relevant intel about a particular web visitor so an ad can be targeted their way. So as an example, when I’m visiting a website about, say, cats on leashes, trackers on that page scoop up certain identifiers that are unique to my computer or phone. That dataset typically gets combined with other data from third-party vendors to give advertisers a better picture of who I am and the ads I “want” to be targeted with. That resulting data-glob gets broadcast onto what’s known as an “ad exchange.” Basically, these exchanges operate like auction clearing houses where advertisers can literally put down bids on a particular chunk of ad space, like the ones you may be seeing embedded in this article right here. And just like in real life auctions, whoever bids the highest wins the prize—in this case, the ability to show their ad in that given chunk of website space.

Oh, and all of this is happening within a fraction of a fraction of a second.

Christ.

Yeah, nobody said digital advertising was fun. The important thing here is that, in general, publishers turn to Google to do this dirty work for them. One recent survey found that about 90% of most major publishers use Google’s native ad server, called Google Ad Manager (or GAM for short). Meanwhile, analysis from the technographic firm Datanyze show Google-owned ad exchange DoubleClick takes up more than 55% of the ad exchange market. To put that into context, most of its competitors have a market share in the single digits. And therein lies the problem.

How did we get here?

When Google first entered the ad exchange market back in 2009 after acquiring DoubleClick, the company was facing pretty stiff competition from the likes of Microsoft and, believe it or not, Yahoo.

Google had to wrest itself from its underdog position, and fast—so the company leveraged its biggest advantage at the time, which was its ad-buying tool aimed at small businesses, called Google Adwords. The suit points out that the company’s own numbers at the time estimated that close to 250,000 small businesses—think restaurants, doctors, plumbers, electricians—across the U.S. were paying Google a chunk of change to bid on ad space that appeared alongside results in the company’s burgeoning search engine, which, depending on who you ask, has arguably been a monopoly in and of itself since 2005.

In the decade since, that name’s changed from Adwords to simply “Google Ads,” and the number of customers exploded: In 2013, the suit states, there were close to 2 million advertisers using the service. Today, well, the numbers speak for themselves.

Not long after the rollout of Google’s ad exchange and server duo, the company changed its policies so that these countless small advertisers looking to bid on Google’s ad space were also required to use that exchange and server to do so. And today, the millions upon millions of businesses that depend on Google ads are still stuck trading in Google’s exchange without any alternative tools to use.

As the suit puts it:

Google Ads […] had market power over its small advertisers because those advertisers almost always use one tool at a time when bidding for ad space. When deciding which ad buying tool to use, most advertisers chose Google’s because it was the only way to purchase search ads and display ads on Google’s leading display network.

But what about… just using more than one exchange?

Good question! Generally, ad-buying tools are routed through multiple exchanges that let advertisers bid on the largest supply of ad space for the best possible price—you know, the way a competitive market is supposed to behave. But as the suit points out, Google’s tools for advertisers mandate that any people trying to buy ad space across the vast Google Display Network exclusively use Google’s exchange to do so—even if third-party exchanges were offering access to identical ad space for a lower premium.

Though the specifics are maddeningly redacted in the suit, it claims that Google published internal documents as far back as 2012 showing that the company imposed these routing restrictions “for the purpose of foreclosing competition.”

“As internal Google documents show, by coupling its ad server with its market power on the buy side, Google prevented customers from switching to competing ad servers and quickly cornered the rest of the market,” the suit says. Over the coming years, it adds, the company “effectively foreclosed” the ad servers it competed with prior. Even when Google did offer access to other exchanges through its products, like it did in 2016, the company “significantly and intentionally restrained” the way these bids were routed, per the suit.

That sounds deeply scummy.

It gets even scummier when you consider how publishers were forced to respond. If a large news outlet (like, say, CNN) wanted a piece of this super lucrative ad dollar pie, then Google cleverly mandated that those publishers use that same proprietary adtech. One of the core ways the company swung this was programming its exchange so that any bids placed would only pop up on publishers licensing the company’s shiny new server, according to the lawsuit.

Because publishers generally only use a single server at a time, and because Google had access to an enormous advertiser pool, you can probably figure out why it became a popular choice. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2019, Google had access to a “fire hose” of ad dollars, and the company’s exchange was the only way to get full access to it.

And as the suit claims, when these publishers were strong-armed into using Google’s server, they were then “blocked from accessing and sharing information” about their ad inventory (the spots on their websites where they show ads) on any non-Google exchanges. So even if they wanted to sell their ad space through another service, the suit alleges, Google effectively told them that wasn’t an option.

So, where does Facebook come into this?

In order to understand that, you need to understand yet another adtech buzz-phrase: “header bidding.” The nitty-gritty of how this operates doesn’t really matter here—in a nutshell, it was a technique adopted around 2014 by third-party adtech vendors, in part, to get on an even keel with Google. By putting a nugget of code on a given webpage, publishers were able to direct a person’s browser to tap into multiple exchanges directly, bypassing Google’s ad-server walled garden. This meant publishers got more access to exchanges, those exchanges had more access to ad space inventory, and nobody needed to pay Google to get that access.

“With header bidding, publishers saw their ad revenue jump overnight simply because exchanges could compete,” the suit states. Naturally, Google was (allegedly) pissed. And Google was even more (allegedly) pissed back in 2017 when fellow tech giant Facebook announced that it would start working with publishers using this header bidding system.

This is where the whole “collusion” scandal comes in. According to the AG’s investigations, Facebook didn’t move into header bidding to compete with Google, but instead to “draw Google in” and force a deal. And it apparently worked: The following year, the two companies allegedly came to an agreement that Facebook would “curtail” its header bidding biz and instead route that ad business through Google’s ad platform instead. In return, Google promised that the Facebook Audience Network (FAN)—its third-party ad serving product you can read all about here—would get certain advantages that other platforms didn’t, according to the lawsuit.

In short: According to the AG investigation, Facebook promised to tank its header bidding efforts, and in return, Google let Facebook bid on (and win) more auctions.

This all sounds slimy, but I hate digital ads and use an ad blocker. Why should I care about this case at all?

Because when a company controls the bulk of the ad market online, it can have pretty big ramifications offline. According to the suit, Google uses its grip on the market to extract a “very high tax of percent of the ad dollars” that flow through the web. And while the exact percentage is redacted, apparently the fees that were charged were high enough “that even Google” couldn’t internally justify charging them.

Even if we don’t have the exact Google “tax,” we do know about the so-called “adtech tax”: Analysts estimated in 2019 that about 30 cents of every ad dollar spent online goes to intermediary adtech players like Google—and that number, which translates to billions of dollars per year, isn’t on course to get smaller anytime soon.

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When those costs ratchet up, the advertisers might feel the brunt of it first, but digital blogs and news outlets—including the one you’re reading right now—end up feeling it, too. We get forced to load up on ads in order to recoup lost profits. When that doesn’t work, publishers just load up on low-quality clickbait and pray for the best. All the while, the web slowly morphs into something that sucks to look at, is obnoxious to use, and is built to benefit one specific company at the expense of everyone else.

Source: The One Thing to Know About the Texas–Google Antitrust Lawsuit

Facebook Ads Are Giving Climate Deniers a Lifeline

Facebook is no stranger to climate misinformation. Just last month, the platform became a key player in spreading surrounding the wildfires raging across the West Coast to an audience of tens of thousands, taking them down only after public outrage. And last year when activists that climate misinformation seemed to be exempt from the platform’s , the company labeled them as opinion pieces which are (apparently) exempt from the program entirely.

On Thursday, UK-based think tank InfluenceMap released a hefty detailing dozens of Facebook ads that ran across Facebook with the platform’s full support despite being chock-full of debunked climate-adjacent conspiracies. While we can speculate on why Zuckerberg and company’s have a barely half-assed stance on the topic until now, all available evidence points to what we knew all along: misinformation is clearly making them a whole lot of money. And at a time when climate denial is plummeting, it’s giving purveyors of misinformation just enough of a toehold to hang on .

“[Facebook ads from these groups] are cost effective and the outcomes are clearly effective,” InfluenceMap e xecutive d irector Dylan Tanner said . “They’re only going to become more common.”

But before we talk about the ads themselves, we need to talk about Facebook’s role here. While the company’s top brass often point out that political ads of all sorts contribute of the funding for Facebook’s multibillion dollar ad empire, those funds actually make up of all the political ad dollars being spent across the web, according to recent estimates. During the current electoral cycle, we’ve seen political groups dump just about $796 million dollars onto the platform, while spending a little under $244 million on advertising through Google’s pipes during the same period.

There’s a few reasons for Facebook’s chokehold, but one of the biggest boils down to targeting. Its biggest rival in the ad spend-space, Google, spent the latter half of last year the way politicians could use its products to target potential voters. Old go-to’s like using voter records or data gleaned from search terms were suddenly out, leaving politicians and political groups supporting them with age, gender, or the zip code as the only metrics they could use when trying to sway the electorate . In contrast, Facebook left most of its targeting tech in the lead up to the 2020 race, which might explain why it’s become the politician’s platform of choice.

Of the roughly 250,000 pages that Tanner’s team found listed in —which chronicle political ads as well as ads about like climate and immigration—95 pages were by the environmental publication Desmog as hawking some sort of climate science misinformation in the past. From that pool, Tanner’s team found 51 ads that they classified as running some sort of disinformation meant to distract hapless Facebook us ers from the that we’re currently living through.

In some cases, these ads even ran during Facebook’s press junket about its as well as immediately afterwards. As Tanner put it, these ads were largely targeted at a lot of folks who “may not be inclined” to check out that climate center in the first place.

Facebook, for its part, did catch one of those ads before it ran, but the remaining 50 were allowed to run their course without any oversight. Over the first half of the year, those ads ended up reaching no less than 8 million Facebook us ers across the country. Meanwhile, when Tanner’s team tallied up the grand total spent on all 51 ads, they found the platform was netting $42,000 dollars over their six month run. That’s chump change compared to what, say, oil giants like Exxon might be into Facebook’s pockets, but still significant enough to raise some eyebrows.

In general, the bulk of these ads could be lumped into one of two groups. The most common route these ads took were just questioning or flat-out denying the consensus on the science behind climate change . The second most common message was just asking the reader whether climate change is, you know, actually caused by , or if it’s just something that was bound to happen anyway.

The targets of these ads can be largely summed up as—and I’m paraphrasing here—“rural grandpas.” During this six-month span, states like Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho were flooded with ads, while more urban states like New York and Connecticut were largely untouched. And while folks retirement-aged or older seemed to make up the bulk of the people that were targeted with these ads, men who were in the sweet spot between 55 and 64 years old got the bulk of them. Second place, naturally, went to men who were 65 or older. These are the folks that were targeted with ads like from PragerU that pushed points about how our climate hasn’t changed much over time (), or from Turning Point USA that just boldly declares “CLIMATE CHANGE PANIC IS NOT BASED ON FACTS.” (Tell that to anyone who has had to breathe California’s toxic air recently. )

“It’s classic political advertising: you reach your demographic and you create the narrative you want so they can influence the election—or at least the electoral process,” Tanner said.

While ultimately these advertisers are the only ones who know what strategy they’re working toward here , it’s clear why this would be the demographic of choice. Folks in the regions and age brackets targeted by misinformation have of climate science acceptance than the general population .

The way Tanner explained it, these Facebook ads weren’t meant to sway a young voters into becoming pro-oil . They’re about maintaining the status quo: a gentle nudge to keep an already skeptical demographic exactly where they are, by reminding them that, after all, “climate change is just a belief,” and “the science isn’t clear,” he added.

If nothing else, you kinda have to give Facebook credit for seemingly failing, again and again, to do the bare minimum when it comes to reigning in the myriad climate hoaxes teeming on the site in general. But .

 

Source: Facebook Ads Are Giving Climate Deniers a Lifeline

Facebook Finally Admits It Values Profits Over Privacy

For a platform that likes to keep reminding us over and over and over again that it prizes our individual privacy, Facebook’s done a pretty piss-poor job of actually following through. Over the past few months, we’ve seen the company purposefully prevent any of us from opting out of this sort of data-mining machine, while later accidentally sharing that data with thousands of developers—both locally and abroad. Now, it looks like the data-hoovering giant is trying to weasel out of not only its promises to consumers, but the assurances it made to regulators, too.

This news comes from Bloomberg, which first reported that Facebook was attempting to push back against Ireland’s Data Protection Commission—the de facto national authority responsible for enforcing data-protection laws across the entire EU. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that these Irish authorities sent Facebook a preliminary order asking that the company stop sending the data of European citizens back to the company’s Silicon Valley HQ, or risk a multibillion-dollar fine from local authorities.

To back up a bit, Ireland isn’t acting alone here. Its order came not long after the entire Court Justice of the European Union officially invalidated a set of longstanding rules, known as the Privacy Shield, meant to ensure that the data of EU citizens could be safely held on the servers of U.S.-based tech companies like Facebook and Google without the federal government getting its hands on it. Without any meaningful alternative to the Shield, companies like Facebook are left trying to prove to EU regulators that they can be responsible for EU users’ data—and without the legislative promise that imbued them with some degree of trust that they enjoyed until now.

But when pushed against a wall by the Irish regulator, Facebook didn’t reach into its usual bag of tricks: It didn’t downplay its ties to the always-lurking, all-American dragnet, launch into incredibly flimsy facades about its care for consumer choice, or point any fingers at China. Instead, it just pointed out that the proposal to keep the EU’s data off of Facebook’s American servers would be bad for business.

“A lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would damage the economy and hamper the growth of data-driven businesses in the EU, just as we seek a recovery from COVID-19,” Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, said in a blog post earlier this week.

“The impact would be felt by businesses large and small, across multiple sectors. In the worst case scenario, this could mean that a small tech start up in Germany would no longer be able to use a US-based cloud provider. A Spanish product development company could no longer be able to run an operation across multiple time zones. A French retailer may find they can no longer maintain a call centre in Morocco.”

Facebook’s no stranger to using small businesses as a makeshift shield when it’s looking to dodge some weighty regulations or curry favor among the parties trying to pass them. But none of these imaginary international companies are the subject of the EU watchdog’s ire right now—Facebook is. And Facebook, even in the best-case scenario, has a lot of money on the line here. If it doesn’t want to constantly fork over a percentage of its revenue in fines to the European government, it needs to make a good-faith effort to actually cut off these transatlantic data flows from the roughly 400 millon Facebookers based in the region.

Because “data” is kind of a squishy term, technically everything from hiring protocols to cloud services would need to be upended under Ireland’s proposal, since these sorts of jobs often run the risk storing some sort of data from the EU in one of Facebook’s servers. And as the Journal points out, these same stipulations could easily be floated to just about every other major tech company, even if Facebook pushes back. And like Facebook also pointed out, taking this stipulation one step too far has the potential to completely upend trillions of dollars expected to pass between the U.S. and EU digital markets this year. And considering how our trade deals with the region have grown kinda frosty under Trump’s tenure, it’s safe to say that this kind of shock to our e-economy is the last thing we really need right now.

Granted, all of this is the worst-case scenario. Ireland’s data watchdog gave Facebook until “mid-September” to respond to the order, as sources close to the deal told Bloomberg. Once they do, the commission plans to send out a new draft of the order to the 26 other data authorities across the EU for “joint approval” from all sides.

But right now, Facebook isn’t proposing any solutions; it’s leaving it to the EU to come up with a legislative answer that meets privacy standards while also allowing Facebook to bring data to its U.S. servers. And as long as it demands that, it’s admitting that it will always put profits over privacy.

Source: Facebook Finally Admits It Values Profits Over Privacy

‘Shooting,’ ‘Bomb,’ ‘Trump’: Advertisers Blacklist News Stories Online – WSJ

Like many advertisers, Fidelity Investments wants to avoid advertising online near controversial content. The Boston-based financial-services company has a lengthy blacklist of words it considers off-limits.

If one of those words is in an article’s headline, Fidelity won’t place an ad there. Its list earlier this year, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, contained more than 400 words, including “bomb,” “immigration” and “racism.” Also off-limits: “Trump.”

Some news organizations have had difficulty placing Fidelity’s ads on their sites, ad-sales executives said, because the list is so exhaustive and the terms appear in many news articles.

Forbidden WordsTop 15 words blacklisted by advertisers working with brand-safety firm IntegralAd ScienceSource: Integral Ad ScienceNote: Data for June
DeadShootingMurderGunRapeBombDiedAttackKilledSuicideTrumpCrashCrimeExplosionAccident01,0002505007501,2501,500Bombx621

Big advertisers have been burned several times in recent years when their digital ads appeared next to offensive content, including fabricated news articles, hateful or racist videos on YouTube and pornographic material.

Such miscues happen, in part, because of the complexities of online ad-buying, where brands generally target certain kinds of audiences rather than specific sites or types of content. It has become clear to advertisers that one way to protect themselves is to stipulate the websites or types of web content they want to avoid, and ensure their partners—digital ad brokers and publishers—honor those wishes.

“Political stories are, regardless of party affiliation, not relevant to our brand,” a Fidelity spokesman said in a written statement. The company also avoids several other topics that it says don’t align with published content about business and finance.

Marketers have used blacklists for years to sidestep controversy. Airlines avoided articles dealing with airline crashes, for instance. Now those blacklists are becoming more sophisticated, specific and extensive, ad executives said.

Online news publishers are feeling the impact, from smaller outlets to large players such as CNN.com, USA Today-owner Gannett Co. , the Washington Post and the Journal, according to news and ad executives.

The operations area of Fidelity Investments Center in Albuquerque last December.PHOTO: JIM THOMPSON/ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL/ZUMA PRESS

The ad-blacklisting threatens to hit publications’ revenue and is creating incentives to produce more lifestyle-oriented coverage that is less controversial than hard news. Some news organizations are investing in technologies meant to gauge the way news stories make readers feel in the hopes of persuading advertisers that there are options for ad placement other than blacklisting.

Consumer-products company Colgate-Palmolive Co. , sandwich chain Subway and fast-food giant McDonald’s Corp. are among the many companies blocking digital ad placements in hard news to various degrees, according to people familiar with those companies’ strategies.

Some companies are creating keyword blacklists so detailed as to make almost all political or hard-news stories off-limits for their ads. “It is de facto news blocking,” said Megan Pagliuca, chief data officer at Hearts & Science, an ad-buying firm owned by Omnicom Group Inc.

The use of lengthy keyword lists “is going to force publishers to do lifestyle content and focus on that at the expense of investigative journalism or serious journalism,” said Nick Hewat, commercial director for the Guardian, a U.K. publisher. “That is a long-term consequence of this sort of buying behavior.” The Guardian has had some advertisers block words such as “Brexit,” he said.

Ad RestrictionsThe number of advertisers who worked with DoubleVerify to prevent their adsfrom appearing alongside news or political contentSource: DoubleVerifyNote: Data for second quarter of each year
2016’17’18’190255075100125150175200

During the second quarter of this year, 177 advertisers that worked with ad measurement firm DoubleVerify Inc. blocked their ads from appearing on news or political content online, up 33% from the year-earlier period and more than double the 2017 total, the company said.

Integral Ad Science Inc., a firm that ensures ads run in content deemed safe for advertisers, said that of the 2,637 advertisers running campaigns with it in June, 1,085 brands blocked the word “shooting,” 314 blocked “ISIS” and 207 blocked “Russia.” Almost 560 advertisers blocked “Trump,” while 83 blocked “Obama.”

The average number of keywords the company’s advertisers were blocking in the first quarter was 261. One advertiser blocked 1,553 words, it said.

The polarized political environment in the U.S. has put brands on heightened alert. Marketers are mindful of the backlash they can face on social media when customers feel they advertised in offensive content. One Twitter account, Sleeping Giants, called out hundreds of brands that appeared on the right-wing news site Breitbart News Network following the 2016 presidential election, prompting widespread blacklisting of the site.

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Colgate-Palmolive is blocking online ad placements in news stories, according to people with knowledge of its ad strategy. “In general, our media buying goals are to advertise where people are most likely to be receptive to what we have to say,” a Colgate spokeswoman said in an email. The company said it looks for “opportunities more likely to fit with the brand’s positive, optimistic message.”

Subway said it has blacklisted 70,000 websites, including most hard-news outlets. The company wants to align with “positivity and the moments when our guests will be most likely to consider getting Subway,” said Melissa Sutton, Subway’s director of media services.

Used-car retailer CarMax Inc. blocks online ads it purchases through automated systems from appearing next to news content in categories such as “disasters,” “extreme violence” and “inflammatory politics” to ensure the integrity of its brand, the company said.

McDonald’s currently is blocking hard news from its automated ad purchases in the U.S., according to a person familiar with its ad buying. “The first time your brand is damaged, it’s not easily fixed,” said Bob Rupczynski, senior vice president of marketing technology at McDonald’s, during a recent ad conference in Cannes, France.

Pedestrians walk past a McDonald’s Corp. restaurant in Chicago in July. PHOTO:CHRISTOPHER DILTS/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Hotel company Marriott International Inc. avoids buying digital ads near opinion or commentary news, according to a person familiar with its approach.

Alphabet Inc. ’s Google has a long keyword blacklist that contains more than 500 words and phrases, including “privacy,” “federal investigation,” “antitrust,” “racism,” “FBI,” “taxes,” “anti-Semitic,” “gun control” and “drought,” according to a copy reviewed by the Journal. The list has made it difficult for at least one news publisher to place Google ads on its site, a person familiar with the matter said.

Blacklisting is cutting into the revenue of some online news publishers, even though they sometimes can replace blocked ads with content from other advertisers.

The audiences of many online publishers grew after President Trump launched his campaign—the “Trump bump.” At the same time, “they are losing revenue because some clients are using extensive keyword exclusion lists,” said John Montgomery, executive vice president of global brand safety at GroupM, one of the world’s largest ad-buying firms.

It is a worrisome trend for the news business, a sector already taking a hit as advertising spending shifts to online ad giantsFacebook Inc. and Google. Spending on newspaper print ads in the U.S. has plummeted 32% over the past five years, according to estimates from Zenith, an ad-buying company owned by Publicis Groupe SA .

CNN.com, which is owned by AT&T Inc., said it deals with some advertisers whose blacklists exceed 1,000 words. Among the words advertisers most often wanted to avoid on CNN.com during the first half of the year were “shooting,” “Mueller,” “ Michael Cohen ” and “crash.” The most-blocked term during the time period was “Trump,” which was blocked 636,636 times, CNN said.

Some digital publishers said the push for brand safety amounts to indirect censorship. Vice Media told advertisers at a presentation in May that it will no longer allow brands to block 25 words, including “bisexual,” “gay,” “HIV,” “lesbian,” “Latino,” “Middle Eastern,” “Jewish” and “Islamic.”

“Bias should not be the collateral damage of our much-needed brand-safety efforts,” said Cavel Khan, senior vice president of client partnerships for North America at the Brooklyn-based media company.

Marketers became more aggressive about protecting their brands online after a 2017 article by the Times of London that carried the headline: “Big brands fund terror through online adverts.” The article reported that ads from well-known brands were appearing on YouTube channels promoting hate speech or terrorism.

In the ensuing months, similar ad-placement problems plagued YouTube and other advertising platforms such as Facebook. Advertisers began taking a more cautious approach to digital advertising, enlisting the help of firms specializing in “brand safety,” ad buyers said.

“What turned out to be a reaction to protect a brand from unsafe things that are mostly user generated content,” on sites such as YouTube, ended up hurting media companies focused on producing real journalism, said Christine Cook, senior vice president and chief revenue officer of CNN’s digital operations.

The Colgate-Palmolive Co. New York office in 2018. PHOTO: MICHAEL BROCHSTEIN/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES

In automated ad buying, brands aim their ads not at specific websites, but at audiences with certain characteristics—people with certain shopping or web browsing histories, for example. Their ads are matched in real time to available inventory in online ad marketplaces that can come from thousands of websites. That is why brands sometimes are surprised to find their ads on websites they find controversial.

Ad-tech firms specializing in brand safety offer advertisers multiple ways to control their ad placements. Advertisers can block entire categories, such as “politics” or “violence,” using classifications brand-safety firms have set up after crawling the web. They can avoid certain keywords that appear in an article or headline. And they can establish a blacklist of sites to avoid or a white-list of sites they deem safe.

Brand safety has become a big business on Madison Avenue. Some agencies have hired teams of people to monitor digital ad placements, and some marketers have hired brand-safety officers.

Ad-technology firm OpenSlate said so many companies have asked for help avoiding news and political content on YouTube that it developed an algorithm last year to identify channels focusing those areas. Mike Henry, OpenSlate’s chief executive officer, said about one-third of its top 100 clients are currently avoiding news and politics on YouTube.

Some ad-sales executives said the technology used for brand safety is too blunt because it doesn’t take into account the full context of how specific words are used in a news story or video. CNN.com and Gannett are creating technology intended to give advertisers a better way to gauge if a news story is controversial.

CNN.com said it is testing a new product dubbed SAM, for Sentiment Analysis Moderator, that uses machine learning to score its site’s content for whether it will make readers feel “mostly negative,” “somewhat negative,” “neutral,” “somewhat positive” or “mostly positive.”

CNN tested the system by having it score 70,000 pieces of content, then having human editors review the content to see whether the technology worked. The company is testing the system with some advertisers who want to buy ads based on sentiment.

The New York Times and USA Today also have been using sentiment analysis to help brands advertise in news articles that may have a positive or optimistic sentiment.

Allison Murphy, senior vice president for ad innovation at New York Times Co., said the company now offers several different ad-targeting options. “We can satisfy a brand that is fine with politics but doesn’t want to be around President Trump,” she said.

In May, representatives of several companies, including CNN.com, USA Today and the Journal met to discuss how they could work with ad agencies and measurement companies to devise a way to move the sector beyond keyword blacklists, according to people familiar with the meetings.

The “overreliance on long keyword blacklists has a real cost” to both publishers and brands, said Josh Stinchcomb, global chief revenue officer of the Journal and Barron’s, both owned by News Corp . “To that end, we are building proprietary tools that ensure brand safety.”

The Washington Post also is using new technologies that help advertisers gauge the context of stories.

Ms. Cook at CNN.com said news organizations must change advertisers’ perception of news. “One of the things I have been evangelizing is all the dimensions of other content types” the company creates, she said.

Some news publishers, including CNN.com and USA Today, are producing and promoting more ad-friendly lifestyle, technology, business and sports content.

“If a client says to us, ‘We are just really not comfortable with news,’ unlike some of our competitors, we don’t have to say, ‘Let me talk to you about why you should run in news,’ ” said Michael Kuntz, chief operating officer of national sales at USA Today Network, which includes USA Today and more than 100 local news outlets.

Still, he said, “the future of the digital news space is heavily reliant on us continuing to change the perception around why news does not need to be a polarizing category.”

Source: ‘Shooting,’ ‘Bomb,’ ‘Trump’: Advertisers Blacklist News Stories Online – WSJ

Will Facebook’s Rebranding of Instagram and WhatsApp Boost Its Rep or Hurt Theirs? – Adweek

Is adding “From Facebook” to the branding for the social media giant’s Instagram photo- and video-sharing network and WhatsApp messaging application a good move, a bad move or inconsequential?

Writer and business coach Jason Aten opted for the second, saying in his post on Inc., “Let’s put this in context: This branding move would be like buying a successful line of luxury boats and renaming them ‘Yachts From Titanic.’”

The social network confirmed this week that Instagram and WhatsApp will be rebranded Instagram From Facebook and WhatsApp From Facebook, respectively, with a spokesperson saying, “We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook.”

However, Rebecca Rosoff, co-founder of independent boutique agency The Kimba Group, pointed out in an interview that “in the culture of abbreviation and emojis, today’s best practices for brand naming conventions do not include going from one word to three.”

And while Facebook’s ownership of Instagram and WhatpsApp is common knowledge in the social media field, the same is not necessarily true for the general public. A DuckDuckGo survey of 1,153 random U.S. adults last year found that 56.9% of respondents were unaware that Facebook owned Instagram, and a similar DuckDuckGo survey of 1,297 random U.S. adults found that 50.4% of respondents who had used WhatsApp in the past six months were unaware of its relationship with Facebook.

Lauren McGrath, vice president of studio and strategy for influencer marketing platform Activate, said in an interview, “Influencers are well aware that Instagram and WhatsApp are both owned by Facebook, although creators have generally favored the former two platforms over the latter. Instagram in particular has greatly benefited from maintaining its own branding and identity separate from Facebook in the wake of the company’s privacy dilemma … It certainly hurts the ‘cool factor’ of these once-indie platforms, although I don’t see influencers abandoning Instagram anytime soon.”

Bryan Gold, CEO of creator media platform #paid, called Facebook’s move “high-risk, low-reward,” saying in an interview that consumers are well aware of the relationship between the platforms, and it hasn’t helped improve perception of Facebook. He added, “It’s like saying, ‘Hey, look: You love Instagram and WhatsApp. That’s our thing. Love us, too.’”

On the WhatsApp side of things, customer service software and engagement platform Zendesk said the rebrand will not affect its continued relationship with the messaging app.

The parent company’s name has been somewhat toxic since it revealed in March 2018 that British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was suspended from its platform for improperly collecting and harvesting user data via a Facebook app called thisisyourdigitallife.

Mike Chiavetta, co-founder of The Kimba Group, said in an interview, “The Facebook name is piled with data scandals and frequently referenced as the propaganda engine. It needs brand equity fast. So, Facebook is infiltrating users’ psyche with old-school name dropping.”

The Cambridge Analytica scandal drew attention in Washington, D.C., and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called on the carpet to testify before Congress in April 2018.

The remainder of 2018 was marked by further issues, including bugs that compromised users’ privacy, discriminatory use of Facebook’s ad-targeting capabilities and questions over the accuracy of the social network’s video ad metrics.

Last month, Facebook agreed to a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 20 times larger than the previous record fine imposed on a tech company for a privacy violation.

Despite all of the turmoil, Facebook certainly did not lay low, introducing its Portal video-calling device in October 2018, which counts on people agreeing to install devices from Facebook in their homes containing cameras that follow them around (albeit easily deactivated).

The company then went so far as to ask for people’s trust with their money, and not just their privacy, detailing plans in June 2019 to enter the virtual currency market in 2020 with the Libra coin and Calibra digital wallet, alongside partners including Spotify, Uber, Visa and Vodafone.

Source: Will Facebook’s Rebranding of Instagram and WhatsApp Boost Its Rep or Hurt Theirs? – Adweek

How Facebook Is Changing to Deal With Scrutiny of Its Power – The New York Times

 

ImageFacebook, under its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, is making changes to deal with antitrust scrutiny.
CreditCreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for the breakup of big tech companies like Facebook. Regulators have opened investigations into Facebook’s power in social networking. Even one of Facebook’s own founders has laid out a case for why the company needs to be split up.

Now the world’s biggest social network has started to modify its behavior — in both pre-emptive and defensive ways — to deal with those threats.

Late last year, Facebook halted acquisition talks with Houseparty, a video-focused social network in Silicon Valley, for fear of inciting antitrust concerns, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. Acquiring another social network after Facebook was already such a dominant player in that market was too risky, said the people, who spoke on the condition they not be identified because the discussions were confidential.

Facebook has also begun internal changes that make itself harder to break up. The company has been knitting together the messaging systems of Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp and has reorganized the departments so that Facebook is more clearly in charge, said two people briefed on the matter. Executives have also worked on rebranding Instagram and WhatsApp to more prominently associate them with Facebook.

The social network’s changes are now prompting a debate about whether a more knitted-together Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram is just smart business or helps strengthen potential anticompetitive practices. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has repeatedly said his company faces competition on all sides and is loath to accept a fragmented version of the social giant. He does not want to lose Instagram and WhatsApp, which are enormous and have the ability to continue fueling Facebook’s $56 billion business.

“The big question is, is this a logical business plan?” said Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust official in the Obama administration and senior adviser to Public Knowledge, a nonprofit think tank in Washington. “For a social network with enormous growth in photos and messaging, there’s probably significant business justification for combining the units.”

But Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and the chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, said Facebook’s moves needed to be scrutinized.

“The combination of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp into the single largest communications platform in history is a clear attempt to evade effective antitrust enforcement by making it harder for the company to be broken up,” he said. “We need to hit the pause button.”

Facebook has pushed back on the idea that the company’s moves — particularly in private messaging — are in anticipation of a potential breakup.

“Building more ways for people to communicate through our messaging apps has always been about creating benefits for people — plain and simple,” said Stan Chudnovsky, a vice president at Facebook overseeing messaging. “People want to be able to reach as many people as they can with the messaging app they choose.”

In Washington, Facebook has its eye particularly on the Federal Trade Commission, the agency that is now investigating it for anticompetitive practices, said two of the people with knowledge of the social network.

The F.T.C. became interested in looking at Facebook and its power last year when the agency’s investigators were separately examining the company for privacy violations, said two people close to the process. At the time, the F.T.C.’s investigators uncovered internal Facebook documents that prompted concerns around how the company was acquiring rivals, they said.

ImageLate last year, Facebook halted acquisition talks with Houseparty, founded in 2016 by Ben Rubin, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The site was especially popular with audiences under the age of 24.
CreditWinni Wintermeyer, via Houseparty

Facebook’s long string of acquisitions — it bought Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, among many others — have been targeted by academics and policymakers for reducing competition. They have argued that the company engaged in “serial defensive acquisitions” to protect its dominant position in social networking.

This year, the F.T.C. sought clearance from the Justice Department to open an antitrust investigation into potentially anticompetitive behavior at Facebook, the people close to the process said. The F.T.C. was cleared to do so, and notified Facebook in June. By late July, the agency had contacted at least a half-dozen founders of companies that Facebook had bought over the past 15 years for information on its acquisition practices, said four people with knowledge of the outreach.

Around the time that the F.T.C. activity on Facebook ramped up, the company also stepped back on at least one potential acquisition.

Last December, Facebook executives were in advanced discussions to buy Houseparty, a social networking app that lets multiple people video chat on their mobile phones at once, said two people with knowledge of the talks. Houseparty, founded in 2016 by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Ben Rubin, was especially popular with audiences under the age of 24. Facebook, whose members are getting older, has coveted younger users.

But weeks into the discussions, Facebook’s corporate development team killed the talks with Houseparty, the people said. Houseparty’s executives were told that a deal would draw unwelcome federal government scrutiny to Facebook, they said. Houseparty was later purchased by Epic Games, the makers of the video game Fortnite.

Facebook’s changes that appear to make a breakup of its apps more difficult began more than a year ago. Mr. Zuckerberg focused on combining the underlying infrastructure of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. The project, called “interoperability,” requires years of deeply technical and difficult engineering work.

The aim, in part, was to create less of a hodgepodge of companies and more of a unified network, said people briefed on the strategy. Publicly, Mr. Zuckerberg has said the initiative will help build a more “private” version of Facebook so customers can “communicate across networks easily and securely,” as users flock to messaging services en masse. People will also get a better and more streamlined user experience, he has said. Mr. Zuckerberg has added that a unified messaging system would better lend itself to moneymaking efforts on WhatsApp, which today brings in little revenue.

But the idea of “interoperability” was a departure for Facebook. While Facebook and Instagram have long shared much of the same infrastructure, its different messaging products generally operated independently.

Though employees at Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are in separate physical buildings, executives have also pushed for them to share more internal resources and have reorganized their reporting lines. In one instance, Facebook executives ordered a change in the messaging teams, two of the people said, requiring the Instagram messenger division to report to the leaders at Facebook’s Messenger app. Bloomberg earlier reported on the internal reorganization.

Last year, Facebook also began a rebranding project, tapping at least one outside agency for help, said three people familiar with the initiative. The agency, Prophet Brand Strategy, was asked to make Facebook into a “branded house,” where Facebook’s moniker always preceded the names of WhatsApp and Instagram, they said. The rebranding mandate came from Mr. Zuckerberg and Antonio Lucio, Facebook’s chief marketing officer, they said.

In March, Jane Manchun Wong, an independent security researcher, spotted the new branding “Instagram from Facebook” — in some unreleased lines of code.

Employees at both Instagram and WhatsApp, who have been accustomed to greater autonomy, have chafed at the coming changes, said three people familiar with the divisions.

In hindsight, Facebook had quietly signaled that unification was afoot more than a year ago. In June 2018, the company introduced a combined metric that drew attention away from any individual product. It tallied the number of people who used one or more of any of Facebook’s services, including WhatsApp and Instagram.

The name of the new metric? Facebook’s Family of apps.

Source: How Facebook Is Changing to Deal With Scrutiny of Its Power – The New York Times