Zuckerberg v unprepared Senators brings interesting question up


Zuckerberg’s been in the hot seat for the Cambridge Analytica fiasco lately, and by hot seat I mean being questioned by people who think the internet is annoying and should generally get off its lawn.

TL;DR – Thinkprogress made a video about how tech-stupid our leaders are. Paul wondered if one of the Senators was actually on to something, did too much research and now you’re subjected to it.

I saw the video below shared in my Facebook feed this morning and was prepared to have a little bit of a laugh at how out of touch Senators are with technology. Perhaps I found it odd that a random pro-Zuckerberg piece ended up in my feed, perhaps not.

The Thinkprogress video tends to indicate Senator Orrin Hatch hadn’t done his homework on Facebook, Senator Maria Cantwell was confusing, Senator Roy Blunt talking about disappearing Facebook Friends and shoutouts to his son Charlie (Hi Charlie!) Senator Deb Fischer asked about “storing categories” and how many might Facebook store, I can’t even begin to figure out where this question is going.

But then Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) asked if “emailing” within Whatsapp ever informed Facebook’s advertisers. Zuckerberg replied that they didn’t see any of the content in Whatsapp, it’s fully encrypted. Schatz re-states his question asking about Black Panther and whether he’s be presented with advertising related to that, Zuckerberg then states again that Facebook doesn’t see the content of the message and Schatz says that’s not what he’s asking. He asks whether Facebook and Whatsapp are sharing data to which Zuckerberg gives him the “what are you talking about” stare.

This is supposed to be haha stupid Senator moment, but I checked and here in the Whatsapp Legal is this little paragraph (I’m underlining the important parts):

  • The choices you have. If you are an existing user, you can choose not to have your WhatsApp account information shared with Facebook to improve your Facebook ads and products experiences. Existing users who accept our updated Terms and Privacy Policy will have an additional 30 days to make this choice by going to Settings > Account.

So, if you’re “emailing” (Schatz term,) in Whatsapp it appears from the legal disclaimer that somehow the data from your account can be used to improve Facebook ads. Hrmm. What data can one get from a Whatsapp account? Name? Profile picture? Phone number? Status update? Your entire contacts list uploaded on a regular basis?

I have the question of how does account information improve your ads on Facebook?

There’s nothing I see in the text of the very large TOS and Legal that says Whatsapp (app) doesn’t look at what words are typed in before the message is sent and fires off a secondary note to Facebook in the encrypted data packet saying “this dude really likes Black Panther.” At that point Facebook has not seen the content of your message, but the Whatsapp software has sent its own message informing FB of an ad you might like.

The question Schatz could have asked was “Does Whatsapp pre-mine my messages in-app for keywords that are then used to deliver more targeted advertising later?” as there doesn’t seem to be anything in the legal that states that the 60 or so megabyte client isn’t doing that.

I can imagine 15 megs of code for that app, what’s the other 45 doing?

In the end though, I’m probably being pedantic about it being a valid question. There’s not really any impact I can see other than perhaps there’s a potential privacy/legal backdoor that could serve you ads based on keywords the app detected within a text box.

Video: Thinkprogress on Facebook

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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One thought on “Zuckerberg v unprepared Senators brings interesting question up

  • yes, this was a question I would have liked to have asked. Yes, FB can’t see the contents of the message as it passes through their servers, but the App sees the plain text of messages sent and received, and that allows FB to mine the messages and use them to drive their advertising.


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