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Opinion | The Endless Facebook Apology – The New York Times

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Kara Swisher

Credit…Arsh Raziuddin, The New York Times

Kara Swisher

In March of 2018, I interviewed Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, at the top of the company’s San Francisco tower. He offered up an astonishing metaphor when I asked him for his take on the impact of social media companies.

“Facebook is the new cigarettes,” Benioff said. “It’s addictive. It’s not good for you.” As it did with cigarette companies, “the government needs to step in,” he added.” The government needs to really regulate what’s happening.”

At the time, I thought it was a flashy reach by an executive who often went out on verbal limbs to make brazen points. But today, after the latest series of investigations into the sketchy acts of the social media giant, Benioff seems like Nostradamus.

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In the past weeks, The Wall Street Journal published “The Facebook Files” — well reported pieces that rely on whistle-blowers who are now just tossing incriminating documents over the wall at a furious pace.

The Journal’s series includes: internal reports showing that Facebook was fully aware of Instagram’s deleterious impact on the mental health of teen girls, while moving full steam ahead with an Instagram for Kids product; internal documents inferring that the company lied to its independent Oversight Board when it said it gave only a small amount of celebs, pols and other grandees a wide berth to break its rules on the platform while, in fact, the free pass was given to millions; and the latest revelation that Facebook makes people angry, in part because of futile efforts of its leader, Mark Zuckerberg, to stop the endless rage.

Even when Zuckerberg tries to do the right thing, and loudly, The Journal’s reporting shows how the platform he built is used to undermine his efforts, as we’ve seen with anti-vaccination misinformation.

“Facebook made a heralded change to its algorithm in 2018 designed to improve its platform — and arrest signs of declining user engagement. Mr. Zuckerberg declared his aim was to strengthen bonds between users and improve their well-being by fostering interactions between friends and family. Within the company, the documents show, staffers warned the change was having the opposite effect. It was making Facebook, and those who used it, angrier,” The Journal reported. “Mr. Zuckerberg resisted some fixes proposed by his team, the documents show, because he worried they would lead people to interact with Facebook less.”

It’s important to have this proof of Facebook’s duplicity. But these revelations come as a shock to no one who has been paying attention to the slippery machinations at the company over the years.

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What’s most revealing is the persistence of the tired old, so-so-sorry, we’ll-do-better excuses that its executives trot out when the company is called out for its destructive products.

At this point, it’s probably best for Facebook executives to say nothing, since every time they do they trip all over themselves in their weird analogies — which are often centered on the idea that humanity sucked before Facebook.

Yes, fine, mankind has not always bathed itself in glory. But nowadays the human race seems even more abhorrent, and in many more twisted and amplified ways, and it’s because of Facebook, the biggest and least accountable communications and media platform in history.

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As The Times’s Kevin Roose noted on Twitter about Facebook’s reaction to the Journal pieces: “It’s just such a weird tactic. Like if Chipotle was getting criticized for having salmonella in its guac or whatever and the CEO’s response was like “well, scaled food production has had many benefits for humanity, including freeing us from being hunter-gatherers.”

The stylings of the company’s head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, are perhaps ground zero for this pointless logrolling.

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“Cars create way more value in the world than they destroyed. And I think social media is similar,” he said to Peter Kafka on Recode Media. After giving that feeble analogy, Mosseri was frustrated that he got dunked on because his critics apparently failed to note that he discussed regulation, too, with Kafka. (Listen to the whole interview, to make Mosseri feel better, as it was substantive.)

About the problems for teen girls, Mosseri tried to shine up the, well, you know, noting in another tweet: “The WSJ’s story today on research we’re doing to understand young people’s experiences on IG casts our findings in a negative light, but speaks to important issues. We stand by this work and believe more companies should be doing the same.”

Obviously, you don’t get claps for doing your job. Nor should you get credit when you do the very least to fix problems like these.

So, sadly, I am coming around to the idea that Benioff’s once-over-the-top metaphor — that social media companies like Facebook are as bad for us as cigarette companies — might not be so far off the mark.

Let me say up front, I am not a tech-product reviewer, and this is not a tech review, so take what I say here with a grain of salt. Or rather, with a heaping tablespoon of sugar.

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The latest investment trend to occupy the self-absorbed I’ll-never-die efforts of tech dudes — and they are mostly dudes — is continuous glucose monitoring.

C.G.M. is aimed at delivering a fine-grain look at what is being called our “metabolic” health, with devices that have typically been used by those with illnesses like diabetes. The goal is to give a wide range of people more data to grok about glucose-level reactions to the foods we eat, when we eat them, and in what combination.

There are lots of C.G.M. devices out there, all trying to attract the attention of the same groups of consumers who are already counting steps, hours of sleep, meditation effectiveness and much more. The goal is to commercialize and popularize the idea that everything you do physically can be measured digitally.

The C.G.M. app that I tried is from a start-up called Levels, which recently grabbed $12 million in Silicon Valley funding. It’s not the only one getting big investment rounds recently in this fast-growing space, which includes January AI ($8.8 million) and Supersapiens ($13.5 million).

Interest from the tech sector is not a surprise; these guys have long embraced the idea of the “quantified body.” It’s a tiresome term known to anyone who has spent any time around start-up entrepreneurs, who talk about their optimal intermittent fasting schedules ad nauseam.

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Earlier entries into this space — so-called wearables — came out about a decade ago. Those include Fitbit, Nike+, Jawbone UP, the Oura Ring, and Whoop. And we can’t forget the all-purpose Apple Watch, which ended up besting them all with close to 34 million devices sold in 2020.

I have owned every one of these and took to calling them “unwearables,” since they came and went like the latest cooking gadget. I have a drawer at home with three Apple Watches, four Fitbits, an Oura Ring and so, so many Ups, as well as others I’ve lost track of.

Besides being mostly bulky, their overall efficacy escaped me. While it’s nice to know my step count, or my sleep patterns, the payoff for wearing these devices, as if I were some kind of pet experiment to tech, was minimal. That is largely because — other than getting links to articles that would help me understand that I should sleep more than four hours a night (duh) or buzzing reminders to stand up more during the workday (double duh) — most of these apps never gave me what I consider truly actionable information.

There have been some more helpful signals of late that wearables will become more useful, including some evidence that indicates that devices like Oura might be able to see some illnesses early, using data from things like heart rate variability and body temperature; some may even be able to pick up early indications of Covid.

One important feature of C.G.M. devices is that they offer data that may be useful. Knowing your steps, for example, is interesting, but that information tells you little about how the steps impact your body. It’s the same for a range of other data you might get from monitoring devices — all informative, but mostly lacking insight that you can use to make changes.

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With a C.G.M. device, you can see how your body reacts to specific foods. In my case, the device knew that pita bread was evil incarnate for me — shooting my glucose numbers off the charts. It gave specific data about what I felt — an inevitable energy crash whenever I ate bread in the morning, even as I craved it. Level’s co-founder and chief medical officer, Casey Means, called bread “blood sugar bombs.”

People with diabetes have long used C.G.M. monitors for just these reasons, but now everyone is the market. When I talked with Means over Zoom, she reeled off some anonymized data from 6,000 beta users — there are over 100,000 on a wait list — that shows the foods that impact most people badly. Along with cake, bagels and cookies, some of the big surprises have been granola, oatmeal and even potatoes. Worst takeout: Pizza, Chinese and Thai.

“It looks like an epidemic of metabolic dysfunction,” joked Means. “I see it realistically as making important data more accessible and perhaps help shift the food industry if people begin to demand different options.”

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Means said that in order to be most effective, such devices must eventually become cheap and easy to use for a large number of people (I paid about $395 for mine), so the collective real-time data can be used across populations.

Not everyone is convinced. Some have called these devices a waste of time and money with little benefit to those who mostly live in the normal blood glucose range. They say that the information you get is largely useless, even as others think any monitoring and analysis can set in motion behavioral changes that could help limit the glucose fluctuation.

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We’ll see, but it’s an interesting investing space to watch, as more money pours in. No matter what: Put down that doughnut.

Has there been anything more entertaining this week than watching people react to a tweet by the rap star Nicki Minaj about an alleged reaction to the Covid vaccine by her cousin’s friend in Trinidad?

It’s certainly easy to dunk on her — she claimed the man’s testicles became swollen — and many did, largely with humor (including me). Though her claim was refuted by the health minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Minaj doubled down on exaggerations by saying she had been invited to the White House (they offered a call with a health expert) and that Twitter had disabled her ability to post (it had not); she is now asserting (on Instagram) that she is being attacked by the amorphous “Establishment” so that “no one will ever ask questions again.”

All of which is codswallop from a celebrity seeking attention and relevance, of course. Cancel culture, as Minaj seems to be implying? More like fact-checking.

Amazon said this week that it will hire 125,000 more employees, to add to the close to 450,000 it has hired since the pandemic started — and the company is dangling an average wage of $18 an hour for these jobs. It also said it would pay 100 percent of college tuition for hourly workers who stay longer than 90 days.

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It’s all part of a push by many employers to attract and retain workers amid a dearth of them. But what’s most interesting is that the stimulus checks meant to give relief to workers during Covid have done what union organization was unable to do at the e-commerce giant: Compel it to pay its workers more.

That’s all good, but we should note that Big Tech companies like Amazon have never rewarded shareholders and their executives more, and these changes are no cause for back-patting on the their part.

As the writer Dave Eggers — whose new book, “The Every” imagines a world in which Amazon and Google are merged (Yipes!) — noted to me in a Sway interview this week: “The Bezos way, paying people $15 an hour, a sub-living wage, they hold on to that like it’s such a badge of honor.” Referring to how Amazon touts that it offers health care from day one, along with that $15 an hour, he said: “I don’t understand how that is such a point of pride.”

Word.

Have feedback? Send a note to swisher-newsletter@nytimes.com.

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Updating Special Ad Audiences for housing, employment, and credit advertisers

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On June 21, 2022 we announced an important settlement with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that will change the way we deliver housing ads to people residing in the US. Specifically, we are building into our ads system a method designed to make sure the audience that ends up seeing a housing ad more closely reflects the eligible targeted audience for that ad.

As part of this agreement, we will also be sunsetting Special Ad Audiences, a tool that lets advertisers expand their audiences for ad sets related to housing. We are choosing to sunset this for employment and credit ads as well. In 2019, in addition to eliminating certain targeting options for housing, employment and credit ads, we introduced Special Ad Audiences as an alternative to Lookalike Audiences. But the field of fairness in machine learning is a dynamic and evolving one, and Special Ad Audiences was an early way to address concerns. Now, our focus will move to new approaches to improve fairness, including the method previously announced.

What’s happening: We’re removing the ability to create Special Ad Audiences via Ads Manager beginning on August 25, 2022.

Beginning October 12th, 2022, we will pause any remaining ad sets that contain Special Ad Audiences. These ad sets may be restarted once advertisers have removed any and all Special Ad Audiences from those ad sets. We are providing a two month window between preventing new Special Ad Audiences and pausing existing Special Ad Audiences to enable advertisers the time to adjust budgets and strategies as needed.

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For more details, please visit our Newsroom post.

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Impact to Advertisers using Marketing API on September 13, 2022

For advertisers and partners using the API listed below, the blocking of new Special Ad Audience creation will present a breaking change on all versions. Beginning August 15, 2022, developers can start to implement the code changes, and will have until September 13, 2022, when the non-versioning change occurs and prior values are deprecated. Refer below to the list of impacted endpoints related to this deprecation:

For reading audience:

  • endpoint gr:get:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field operation_status

For adset creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/adsets
  • field subtype

For adset editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdCampaign
  • field subtype

For custom audience creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field subtype

For custom audience editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:CustomAudience

Please refer to the developer documentation for further details to support code implementation.

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Introducing an Update to the Data Protection Assessment

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Over the coming year, some apps with access to certain types of user data on our platforms will be required to complete the annual Data Protection Assessment. We have made a number of improvements to this process since our launch last year, when we introduced our first iteration of the assessment.

The updated Data Protection Assessment will include a new developer experience that is enhanced through streamlined communications, direct support, and clear status updates. Today, we’re sharing what you can expect from these new updates and how you can best prepare for completing this important privacy requirement if your app is within scope.

If your app is in scope for the Data Protection Assessment, and you’re an app admin, you’ll receive an email and a message in your app’s Alert Inbox when it’s time to complete the annual assessment. You and your team of experts will then have 60 calendar days to complete the assessment. We’ve built a new platform that enhances the user experience of completing the Data Protection Assessment. These updates to the platform are based on learnings over the past year from our partnership with the developer community. When completing the assessment, you can expect:

  • Streamlined communication: All communications and required actions will be through the My Apps page. You’ll be notified of pending communications requiring your response via your Alerts Inbox, email, and notifications in the My Apps page.

    Note: Other programs may still communicate with you through the App Contact Email.

  • Available support: Ability to engage with Meta teams via the Support tool to seek clarification on the questions within the Data Protection Assessment prior to submission and help with any requests for more info, or to resolve violations.

    Note: To access this feature, you will need to add the app and app admins to your Business Manager. Please refer to those links for step-by-step guides.

  • Clear status updates: Easy to understand status and timeline indicators throughout the process in the App Dashboard, App Settings, and My Apps page.
  • Straightforward reviewer follow-ups: Streamlined experience for any follow-ups from our reviewers, all via developers.facebook.com.

We’ve included a brief video that provides a walkthrough of the experience you’ll have with the Data Protection Assessment:

Something Went Wrong

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We’re having trouble playing this video.

The Data Protection Assessment elevates the importance of data security and helps gain the trust of the billions of people who use our products and services around the world. That’s why we are committed to providing a seamless experience for our partners as you complete this important privacy requirement.

Here is what you can do now to prepare for the assessment:

  1. Make sure you are reachable: Update your developer or business account contact email and notification settings.
  2. Review the questions in the Data Protection Assessment and engage with your teams on how best to answer these questions. You may have to enlist the help of your legal and information security points of contact to answer some parts of the assessment.
  3. Review Meta Platform Terms and our Developer Policies.

We know that when people choose to share their data, we’re able to work with the developer community to safely deliver rich and relevant experiences that create value for people and businesses. It’s a privilege we share when people grant us access to their data, and it’s imperative that we protect that data in order to maintain and build upon their trust. This is why the Data Protection Assessment focuses on data use, data sharing and data security.

Data privacy is challenging and complex, and we’re dedicated to continuously improving the processes to safeguard user privacy on our platform. Thank you for partnering with us as we continue to build a safer, more sustainable platform.

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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