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Why Facebook’s Metaverse Is A Privacy Nightmare

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A metaverse largely run by Facebook—sorry, Meta—doesn’t sound like fun to me. With Facebook’s ambitions to create hardware and other technology for the so-called metaverse, it means more sensors in people’s homes, collecting vast amounts of data. You’re then trusting Facebook to keep data private.

At a time when many are moving to delete Facebook—or at least reduce their use of the social network—trust is a key factor. It’s why an increasing number of people are moving to iPhones and using Apple’s privacy features.

Facebook’s AI algorithm that leads people to extreme content has been under the spotlight and is at the center of recent allegations that the social network puts profits before people

Now Meta and the metaverse have become the subject of a new warning made by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. In an interview with the Associated Press, Haugen said the virtual reality world could give Facebook another monopoly online, as well as being addictive, and steal even more personal information from users. 

Haugen said Facebook’s recent trumpeting of the metaverse is a screen behind which it can hide while its regulatory issues play out: “If you don’t like the conversation, you try to change the conversation,” she said.

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Meta says the metaverse will be built responsibly 

This was denied by Facebook owner Meta, which said it had been planning the announcement for some time, and that the metaverse will be built with responsibility at its heart. Andrew Bosworth, VP, Facebook Reality Labs and Nick Clegg, VP, global affairs claimed in a blog that the metaverse will be built responsibly.

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“The metaverse won’t be built overnight by a single company,” the blog reads. “We’ll collaborate with policymakers, experts and industry partners to bring this to life.”

Meta says it will work involve the human rights and civil rights communities from the start to ensure technologies are “built in a way that’s inclusive and empowering.”

The company also pointed to a $50 million investment in global research and program partners to ensure products are developed responsibly. 

But Haugen doesn’t trust Facebook owner Meta to manage this, and has warned of the privacy implications. “So beyond the fact that these immersive environments are extremely addictive and they encourage people to unplug from the reality we actually live,” Haugen told the Associated Press, the metaverse will require people to put “many, many more sensors in our homes and our workplaces.” 

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This will of course impact the collection of people’s data, and their privacy.

Meta says it is looking into how it can minimize “the amount of data that’s used, build technology to enable privacy-protective data uses and give people transparency and control over their data.”

Part of the idea of Facebook’s metaverse is immersive mixed reality business meetings, via virtual meeting software called Horizon Workrooms. This could also be a privacy nightmare—Haugen warned people could be forced to participate in this new working ethos or lose their jobs. “If your employer decides they’re now a metaverse company, you have to give out way more personal data to a company that’s demonstrated that it lies whenever it is in its best interests,” she said.

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“AI and machine learning give companies like Meta/Facebook the ability to aggregate vast quantities of data that influence every aspect of our lives,” says Phillip Dutton, co-CEO and co-founder at Solidatus, a technology firm that is currently focused on data privacy. That is why he says, that “regulators and the public are demanding transparency so they can trust their data is being used and protected appropriately.”

Trust in Facebook is low

Trust in Facebook is low, and experts remain sceptical about the safety and privacy implications of the metaverse. 

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As Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at security company ESET points out, Facebook’s average age is 41 and that’s increasing each year—the social network will do what it needs to do to reach younger audiences. “Younger users is where their future lies, and they have come up with something that could be quite addictive to younger audiences. It’s what they are trying to focus on but they don’t know exactly where this is going to take them—it’s a good stab at future proofing their business model.”

Facebook doesn’t have a bad reputation by accident, Forbes’ Zak Doffman says in this week’s Straight Talking Cyber. “Am I to believe, Mark [Zuckerberg], that Meta is going to create a virtual world that you expect me to put my kids in and the simple task of taking toxic content down off your social platforms you have palpably failed to do. I don’t want my kids on it. The Metaverse needs to be a safe environment and people don’t think Facebook is safe at the moment and that’s going to be its biggest issue. Change its name as much as you like.”

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It’s a complex and concerning issue but thankfully, the metaverse isn’t something that’s going to be built overnight: It will take 10 to 15 years to become anything like the vision set out by Meta and others. But in the meantime, people need to see Meta for what it is: A new name for Facebook, which as we all know does not have the best reputation for privacy.

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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:

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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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