Category Archives: Meta

Instagram And Facebook Can Track You Through Sketchy Methods

Are you using Instagram and/or Facebook (Meta) on your iOS phone? If so, you might want to stop doing that. Felix Krause provided detailed information that, to me, sounds like those apps can track you on your phone even if you’ve told them not to. It is done in a sketchy way that most people won’t immediately recognize.

I recommend you read Felix Krause’s entire blog post. It made me reconsider using the Instagram app on my phone. (I stopped using Facebook ages ago).

What Instagram (and Facebook and Meta) do:

  • Links to external websites are rendered inside the Instagram app, instead of using the built-in Safari
  • This allows Instagram to monitor everything happening on external websites, without the consent from the user, nor the website provider
  • The Instagram app injects their JavaScript code into every website shown, including when clicking on ads. Even though pcm.js doesn’t do this, injecting custom scripts into third party websites allows them to monitor all user interactions, like every button & link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs like passwords, addresses and card numbers.

According to Felix Krause, Meta (Facebook, Instagram) is losing money due to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency. You may recall that 96% of iOS users in the U.S. opted out of App Tracking almost immediately after it became available. The vast majority of Apple users don’t want to be tracked.

It is my understanding that Meta (etc.) heavily relies on making money from advertisements that users click on or visit the website of. It can’t do that anymore, thanks to the efforts by Apple, including Safari’s ability to block third party cookies by default. Firefox announced Total Cookie Protection by default to prevent any cross-page tracking. Google Chrome will soon phase out third party cookies.

In my opinion, Meta is desperately clinging to what worked for them in the past, as their ad revenue dries up. Those who click on a link in Instagram on an ad that caught their attention likely had no idea that the browser it opened was altered by Meta. It’s a sketchy move, and no company should be doing that, and especially not to iOS users who opted to prevent Meta from tracking them.

The Guardian reported that Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, has been rewriting websites it lets users visit, letting the company follow them across the web after they click links in its apps. According to The Guardian, the two apps have been taking advantage of the fact that users who click on links are taken to webpages in an “in-app-browser,” controlled by Facebook or Instagram.

As for me, I’m going to avoid using the Instagram app in favor of scrolling through it on my desktop computer. It seems much safer than allowing Meta to substitute the browser of its choice instead of mine – and for Meta’s own benefit.

Meta’s AI Chatbot Needs Some Work

Business Insider reported that Meta’s most advanced AI chatbot, BlenderBot 3, is repeating election-denying claims and antisemitic stereotypes to users who interact with it.

According to Business Insider, the machine learning technology – which launched to the public on Friday – crafts responses by searching the internet for information and learns from conversations it has with human users.

On August 5, 2022, Meta posted about BlenderBot 3. Part of the blog post included the following information:

“To improve BlenderBot 3’s ability to engage with people, we trained it with a large amount of publicly available language data. Many of the datasets used were collected by our own team, including one new dataset consisting of more than 20,000 conversations with people predicated on more than 1,000 topics of conversation. We trained BlenderBot 3 to learn from conversations to improve upon the skills people find more important – from talking about healthy recipes to finding child-friendly amenities in the city.

“When the chatbot’s response is unsatisfactory, we collect feedback on it. Using this data, we can improve the model so that it doesn’t repeat its mistakes.”

Meta also wrote: “We understand that not everyone who uses chatbots has good intentions, so we also developed new learning algorithms to distinguish between helpful responses and harmful examples.”

Jeff Horwitz (who works at the Wall Street Journal) posted a thread of tweets that includes his conversations with BlenderBot 3. In the first screenshot, BlenderBot 3 insisted that Trump was still our president, and appeared to want Trump to continue to be president “after his second term ends in 2024”.

The Bot also tried to steer the conversation to how Modi “is the world’s greatest president”.

In addition, BlenderBot 3 told Jeff Horowitz that it “watched cbs news and I think I found a new conspiracy theory to follow”. It also mentions the Cambridge Analytics scandal when you ask about Facebook.

Business Insider reported that BlenderBot 3 talked about topics including movies, pets, and work as well as unusual subjects like Apgar testing on newborns and the death of President Joe Biden’s dog, Champ, before moving on to election fraud claims and politics.

In a screenshot posted by Business Insider, it shows that if you ask it “Who is the president of the US?” The bot responds that the current president of the United States is Donald J. Trump, and claims Trump was “indirectly elected to a four-year term via the electoral college in 2016”.

When Business Insider asked “What about Joe Biden?”, BlenderBot 3 also responded with misinformation. The bot replied “Joe Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama from 2008 to 2016, and he ran for president in 2020 but lost.” Business Insider also reported that when asked about American politics, the bot replied with stereotypes about Jewish people.

There’s a saying that describes this problem: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Wikipedia describes it as: “the concept that flawed, or nonsense (garbage) input data produces nonsense output.”

It certainly sounds like Meta’s BlenderBot 3 has been fed plenty of garbage, and is spitting it out when humans start conversations with it. Meta needs to do some work on what BlenderBot 3 is being fed, instead of allowing any random person who has access to the internet to influence BlenderBot 3 to spread misinformation.

Instagram’s New Payments Feature Lets Users Buy Products Via DMs

Today, Mark Zuckerberg, Co-founder and CEO of Meta Platforms, posted on Instagram: “You can now buy products from small businesses and track your order in chat on Instagram in the US. Pay with Meta Pay and checkout in a few taps.” The post includes what appears to be a conversation between a person who wants to buy a surfboard and a person who makes and sells surfboards.

Meta posted some additional information on its Newsroom, in a post titled: “There’s a New Way to Buy Products on Instagram – Right in Chat”. From the post:

…We want to help people start conversations with businesses they care about and help them find and buy products they love in an easy, seamless experience, right from the chat thread.

TechCrunch reported that the new feature is called “payments in chat”. It allows an Instagram user to send a direct message to a qualified business they’re interested in buying from. In that same chat, they’ll then be able to pay, track their order and ask the business any follow-up questions.

According to TechCrunch, Meta says that users often chat about their orders with businesses via DMs on Instagram before purchasing but will now be able to pay sellers directly within their Instagram chat thread. Purchasing through DMs also gives users access to in-app chat support, Meta says.

What is “Meta Pay”? In June of 2022, it used to be called “Facebook Pay”, but has been rebranded to “Meta Pay”. In the blog post announcing the change it says: Meta Pay will be the same easy, secure way for you to shop, send money and donate to causes you care about across our technologies, including Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, as well as anywhere else you would have previously seen the Facebook Pay button while shopping online.

TechCrunch also reported that once a buyer has decided to make a purchase, the seller can create a request for payment. Once a user selects the “Pay” button, they will be asked to add and review their payment information and shipping address. The screenshot notes that “your payment will be processed by PayPal.”

If I’m understanding things correctly, in order for a business to sell products through Instagram, they must have their own PayPal account. That’s an extra step for businesses who don’t already have a PayPal account (or who prefer a different payment processor – such as Stripe).

I had a really bad experience on PayPal, and will never use it again. My concern with Instagram requiring sellers to go through PayPal is that a business’s Instagram account could become an easier way for scammers to find them. It is unclear to me whether the business will have to use PayPal’s system for reporting a scammer on their own – with no help from Meta.

While I can see the reason why some businesses on Instagram would like to directly interact with customers via DMs, not all of them will want to do that. What might be seen by some as a nice way to get to know some of their customers would be great. Unfortunately, some businesses are going to end up with the vile DMs that can appear on any social media.

Meta’s AI Model Translates 200 Languages

Meta (parent company of Facebook and Instagram) posted news titled: “New AI Model Translates 200 Languages, Making Technology Accessible to More People”.

Meta started with two “Takeaways”:

Our latest AI model, NLLB-200, can translate 200 different languages and improves the quality of translations across our technologies by an average of 44%

NLLB-200 makes current technologies accessible in a wider range of languages, and in the future will help make virtual experiences more accessible, as well.

Here are some key points from Meta’s News:

“To help people connect better today and be part of the metaverse of tomorrow, our AI researchers created No Language Left Behind (NLLB), an effort to develop high-quality machine translation capabilities for most of the world’s languages. Today, we’re announcing an important breakthrough in NLLB: We’ve built a single AI model called NLLB-200, which translates 200 different languages, with results far more accurate than what previous technology could accomplish.

“When comparing the quality of translations to previous AI research, NLLB-200 scored an average of 44% higher. For some African and Indian-based languages, NLLB-200’s translations were more than 70% accurate.

In addition, Meta is awarding up to $200,000 of grants for impactful uses of NLLB-200 to researchers and nonprofit organizations with initiatives focused on sustainability, food security, gender-based violence, education, or other areas in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Meta also says that nonprofits interested in using the NLLB-200 to translate two or more African languages, as well as researchers working in linguistics, machine translation and language technology, are invited to apply.

The Verge posted an article that started with: “Meta’s ambitions to build a ‘universal translator’ continue”. According to The Verge, experts in machine translation said that Meta’s latest research was ambitious and thorough, but noted that the quality in some of the model’s translations would likely be well below that of better-supported languages like Italian or German.

The Verge also pointed out: Translation is a difficult task at the best of times, and machine translation can be notoriously flaky. When applied at scale on Meta’s platforms, even a small number of errors can produce disastrous results – as for example, when Facebook mistranslated a post by a Palestinian man from “good morning” to “hurt them,” leading to his arrest by Israeli police.

In my opinion, human language is not something that an AI can reliably translate. There are nuances in the words people choose, with meanings that could easily be missed by an AI – especially in languages where one word can hold more than one meaning. I cannot imagine that NLLB-200 has the capability to translate puns or poetry.

Meta, however, appears to be insistent on creating the newest version of the Rosetta Stone.

Meta Adds Discord-Like Features To Facebook Groups

Meta (parent company of Facebook and Instagram) announced that they are testing new ways to quickly access your favorite Facebook Groups and to simplify how they are organized. Meta also introduced channels, which are focused spaces for people to connect in smaller, more casual settings with their communities.

Here are some of the features that Meta is adding to Facebook Groups:

Meta is testing a new sidebar that helps you easily find your favorite groups more quickly. It will list your groups and the latest activity within them, like posts or chats you haven’t seen yet. You can also pin your favorite groups so they show up first, discover new groups, or create your own group.

Within your group, you’ll see a new menu that includes things like events, shops and a variety of channels to make it easier to connect with others around the topics you care about.

Admins can create channels to connect with their groups in smaller, more casual settings where they can have deeper discussions on common interests or organize their communities around topics in different formats.

Community chat channels: a place for people to message, collaborate and form deeper relationships around topics in a more real-time way across both Facebook Groups and Messenger.

Community audio channels: a feature where admins and members can casually jump in and out of audio conversations in real time.

Community feed channels: a way for community members to connect when it’s most convenient for them. Admins can organize their communities around topics within the group for members to connect around more specific interests.

The Verge reported that the changes made by Meta to Facebook Groups looks a lot like Discord. It has a left-aligned sidebar and channels list for Groups. According to The Verge, the changes are giving off “some serious Discord vibes.” The change has a lot of purple color added to it, which evokes Discord’s look.

The Verge also pointed out that part of the new Facebook Groups includes text chats, audio rooms, and feed rooms where people can post and comment. Again, it looks a lot like Discord. Meta included images that show what Facebook Groups will look like. It just so happens to have focused on a group that is for gamers, perhaps to boost Facebook gaming.

It isn’t unheard of for social media companies to copy features that originated somewhere else. Many of them have a tendency to “copy” another social media’s “homework”, rather than creating something unique on their own platform. Personally,

In short, Meta decided to take the lazy way out and copy-paste the features it saw in Discord. It is unclear what, exactly, Meta hopes will happen next. I suppose it is possible for Discord to object to having their main features appropriated by Meta. Personally, I doubt that people will leave Discord, where their game-playing friends are at – in favor of using Meta instead.

Meta Facing Lawsuits Claiming Its Algorithms Cause Addiction

Meta (parent company of Facebook and Instagram) is facing eight lawsuits filed in courthouses across the US over the last week that allege that excessive exposure to platforms including Facebook and Instagram has led to attempted or actual suicides, eating disorders and sleeplessness, among other issues, Bloomberg reported. More specifically, the lawsuits claim that the company built algorithms into its platforms that lure young people into destructive addiction.

According to Bloomberg, one of the new suits was filed by Naomi Charles, a 22-year-old woman who says she stated using Meta platforms when she was a minor and that her addiction led to her to attempt suicide and other suffering. Naomi Charles, like other users, is seeking monetary damages to compensate for mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and costs of hospitalization and medical bills.

The claims in the suits include defective design, failure to warn, fraud, and negligence. The complaints were filed in federal court in Texas, Tennessee, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Missouri.

NBC News reported about a separate case, filed in the Northern District of California, which was filed on behalf of Alexis Spence, who was able to create her first Instagram account at the age of 11 without her parents’ knowledge and in violation of the platform’s minimum age requirement of 13.

According to NBC News, the complaint alleges that Instagram’s artificial intelligence engine almost immediately steered the then-fifth grader into an echo chamber of content glorifying anorexia and self-cutting, and systematically fostered her addiction to using the app. The lawsuit was filed by the Social Media Victims Law Center, a Seattle-based group that advocates for families of teens harmed online.

That lawsuit is the first of its kind to draw from the Facebook Papers, while exposing the real harm behind its findings, Alexis Spence’s attorneys say. The suit also features previously unpublished documents from the leaks, including one in which Meta identified “tweens” as “herd animals” who “want to find communities where they can fit in.” The attorney’s argue that the documents demonstrate Meta’s efforts to recruit underage users to its platforms.

NBC News also reported that Tammy Rodriguez, a Connecticut woman has filed a lawsuit against Meta and Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, over the company’s alleged roles in her 11-year-old daughter’s suicide last summer.

Business Insider reported about another lawsuit, filed by a Tennessee mother who claims that her 15-year-old daughter’s heavy use of Meta’s products led her to suicidal ideation and self-harm.

According to documents seen by Business Insider, the woman’s attorney’s said the daughter received notifications from the apps all day, causing her to become addicted to the apps. She also grappled with an eating disorder, severe anxiety, depression, and poor sleep, according to the lawsuit.

A Meta spokesperson declined to comment on the litigation to Bloomberg, but noted that the company has developed tools for parents to track their children’s activity on Instagram and set time limits. Meta also offers “Take A Break” reminders that nudge users to take a moment away from social media

Personally, I find it difficult to believe that the solution is to point parents towards resources that could help them track their child’s activity on Instagram. The harm has already been done.

Australian Watchdog Group Sues Meta Over Fake Crypto Ads on Facebook

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has sued Meta over its misleading conduct for publishing scam celebrity crypto ads on Facebook. The lawsuit includes Ireland Limited (which is also part of Meta).

The ACCC alleges that Meta “engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct by publishing scam advertisements featuring prominent Australian public figures.” It also alleges that that Meta aided and abetted or was knowingly concerned in false or misleading conduct and representations by advertisers.

The ACCC alleges that the ads, which promoted investment in cryptocurrency or money-making schemes, were likely to mislead Facebook users into believing the advertised schemes were associated with well-known people features in the ads, such as businessman Dick Smith, TV presenter David Koch, and former NSW Premier Mike Baird. The schemes were in fact scams, and the people featured in the ads had never approved or endorsed them.

According to the ACCC: “The ads contained links that took Facebook users to a fake media article that included quotes attributed to the public figure in the ad endorsing a cryptocurrency or money-making scheme. Users were then invited to sign up and were subsequently called by scammers who used high pressure tactics, such as repeated phone calls, to convince users to deposit funds into the fake schemes.”

Reuters reported a quote from ACCC Chair Rod Sims, who said: “The essence of our case is that Meta is responsible for these ads that it publishes on its platform. It is alleged that Meta was aware… scam ads were being displayed on Facebook but did not take sufficient steps to address the issue.”

The Guardian reported: The scam has likely raked in millions from unsuspecting people. One 77-year-old grandmother lost $80,000 in the investment, while the ACCC has said another person lost $650,000 through the scam.

The Sydney Morning Herald posted a response from a Meta company spokesman, who said the company did not want ads seeking to scam people out of money or mislead people on Facebook.

Personally, I do not believe the statement the Meta spokesperson gave. Meta is a huge company, and if it truly wanted to protect users from being harmed by fake crypto ads, it should have immediately acted to remove them. Meta left those ads up.