Facebook bans Signal's crafty anti-tracking ad campaign

Signal exposed Facebook’s data collection practices

Facebook logo surrounded by money

Secure messaging application firm Signal just highlighted how much data Facebook collects about its users in a clever piece of media hacking.

Signal, which prides itself on not tracking its users, set out to demonstrate to Facebook users how much data they're giving up.

The company created an ad campaign on Instagram using the Facebook-owned photo and messaging app's multi-variant ad targeting system. This uses the detailed profiles Facebook builds about its users to deliver them appropriate advertisements. Instead of using this targeted demographic data to sell products to a carefully segmented demographic, Signal designed the advertisements to tell recipients what Facebook knew about it explicitly.

"The way most of the internet works today would be considered intolerable if translated into comprehensible real world analogs, but it endures because it is invisible," the company said when explaining the project.

Examples of the ads included: "You got this ad because you're a K-pop-loving chemical engineer. This ad used your location to see you're in Berlin. And you have a new baby. And just moved. And you're really feeling those pregnancy exercises lately."

Other examples Signal posted identified users’ marital status, including a recent divorce, and more nuanced situations like being in an open relationship. Ads also relayed recent purchases and new hobbies. They also called out the kinds of content that specific Instagram users like to read online.

Related Resource

Transforming business operations with AI, IoT data, and edge computing

A Pathfinder report on the ROI of AI, IoT, and edge computing

Transforming business operations with AI, IoT data, and edge computingDownload now

According to Signal, Facebook disallowed the ad campaign. "Being transparent about how ads use people's data is apparently enough to get banned; in Facebook's world, the only acceptable usage is to hide what you're doing from your audience," it continued.

This media hack is another small blow in Facebook's ongoing battle against privacy advocates. In March, the US Supreme Court rejected Facebook’s appeal to scale back a $15 billion class-action lawsuit accusing it of illegally tracking its users' activity. 

Facebook is also involved in an ongoing spat with Apple, which has introduced privacy changes in iOS 14 that give users an opt-in prompt to enable in-app tracking. Facebook responded by inserting messages in its app that guide users to opt in.

Featured Resources

Consumer choice and the payment experience

A software provider's guide to getting, growing, and keeping customers

Download now

Prevent fraud and phishing attacks with DMARC

How to use domain-based message authentication, reporting, and conformance for email security

Download now

Business in the new economy landscape

How we coped with 2020 and looking ahead to a brighter 2021

Download now

How to increase cyber resilience within your organisation

Cyber resilience for dummies

Download now

Most Popular

How to find RAM speed, size and type

How to find RAM speed, size and type

16 Jun 2021
EU plans to launch bloc-wide cyber task force
cyber attacks

EU plans to launch bloc-wide cyber task force

22 Jun 2021
What is HTTP error 400 and how do you fix it?
Network & Internet

What is HTTP error 400 and how do you fix it?

16 Jun 2021