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Leaked Documents Show Facebook Leveraged User Data To Help Friends and Fight Rivals

A cache of leaked Facebook documents shows how the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, oversaw plans to consolidate the social network’s power and control competitors by treating its users’ data as a bargaining chip. This trove comprises approximately 7,000 pages in total, of which about 4,000 are internal Facebook communications such as emails, web chats, notes, presentations and spreadsheets, primarily from 2011 to 2015. About 1,200 pages are marked as “highly confidential.” Taken together, they show how Zuckerberg, along with his board and management team, found ways to tap Facebook users’ data — including information about friends, relationships and photos — as leverage over the companies it partnered with. In some cases, Facebook would reward partners by giving them preferential access to certain types of user data while denying the same access to rival companies.

For example, Facebook gave Amazon special access to user data because it was spending money on Facebook advertising. In another case the messaging app MessageMe was cut off from access to data because it had grown too popular and could compete with Facebook. All the while, Facebook planned to publicly frame these moves as a way to protect user privacy, the documents show. State and federal authorities are now closely scrutinizing Facebook’s business practices. In October, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that 47 attorneys general from states and U.S. territories plan to take part in a New York-led antitrust probe into Facebook. Over the summer, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings over antitrust concerns in Silicon Valley while the Federal Trade Commission also continues to examine the firm’s practices.

Mozilla Hits Google, Facebook For ‘Microtargeting’ Political Ads

Microtargeting, a method which uses consumer data and demographics to narrowly segment audiences, is used by political campaigns to specialize ads for different voting groups. The practice’s critics include Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, who wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that microtargeting makes it “easy to single out susceptible groups and direct political misinformation to them with little accountability, because the public at large never sees the ad.” Mozilla’s call follows reports that Facebook has considered restricting politicians’ access to microtargeting.

I worked on political ads at Facebook. They profit by manipulating us.

Yael Eisenstat, a visiting fellow at Cornell Tech in the Digital Life Initiative and a former elections integrity head at Facebook, CIA officer, and White House adviser, writes for the Washington Post:

As the company continues to struggle with how to handle political content and as another presidential election approaches, it’s clear that tinkering around the margins of advertising policies won’t fix the most serious issues. The real problem is that Facebook profits partly by amplifying lies and selling dangerous targeting tools that allow political operatives to engage in a new level of information warfare. Its business model exploits our data to let advertisers custom-target people, show us each a different version of the truth and manipulate us with hyper-customized ads — ads that, as of two weeks ago, can contain blatantly false and debunked information if they’re run by a political campaign. As long as Facebook prioritizes profit over healthy discourse, they can’t avoid damaging democracies.

Early in my time there, I dug into the question of misinformation in political advertising. Posting in a “tribe” (Facebook’s internal collaboration platform), I asked our teams working on political advertising whether we should incorporate the same tools for political ads that other integrity teams at Facebook were developing to address misinformation in pages and organic posts. It was unclear to me why the company was applying different, siloed policies and tools across the platform. Most users do not differentiate organic content from ads — as I clearly saw on a trip to India, where we were testing our ads-integrity products — so why were we expecting users to understand that we applied different standards to different forms of content that all just appear in their news feeds?

The fact that we were taking money for political ads and allowing campaigns and other political organizations to target users based on the vast amounts of data we had gathered meant political ads should have an even higher bar for integrity than what people were posting in organic content. We verified advertisers to run political ads, giving them a check mark and a “paid for by” label, and I questioned if that gave the false impression that we were vouching for the validity of the content, boosting its perceived credibility even though we weren’t checking any facts or ensuring that ads weren’t spreading false information. Most of my colleagues agreed. People wanted to get this right. But above me, there was no appetite for my pushing, and I was accused of “creating confusion.”

Children ‘Interested in’ Gambling and Alcohol, According To Facebook

The social network’s advertising tools reveal 740,000 children under the age of 18 are flagged as being interested in gambling, including 130,000 in the UK. Some 940,000 minors — 150,000 of whom are British — are flagged as being interested in alcoholic beverages. These “interests” are automatically generated by Facebook, based on what it has learned about a user by monitoring their activity on the social network. Advertisers can then use them to specifically target messages to subgroups who have been flagged as interested in the topic. In a statement, Facebook said: “We don’t allow ads that promote the sale of alcohol or gambling to minors on Facebook and we enforce against this activity when we find it. We also work closely with regulators to provide guidance for marketers to help them reach their audiences effectively and responsibly.” The company does allow advertisers to specifically target messages to children based on their interest in alcohol or gambling. A Facebook insider gave the example of an anti-gambling service that may want to reach out to children who potentially have a gambling problem and offer them help and support.

Twitter Took Phone Numbers for Security and Used Them for Advertising

When some users provided Twitter with their phone number to make their account more secure, the company used this information for advertising purposes, the company said today.

This isn’t the first time that a large social network has taken information explicitly meant for the purposes of security, and then quietly or accidentally use it for something else entirely. Facebook did something similar with phone numbers provided by users for two-factor authentication, the company confirmed last year. “We recently discovered that when you provided an email address or phone number for safety or security purposes (for example, two-factor authentication) this data may have inadvertently been used for advertising purposes, specifically in our Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences advertising system,” Twitter’s announcement reads. In short, when an advertiser using Twitter uploaded their own marketing list of email addresses or phone numbers, Twitter may have matched the list to people on Twitter “based on the email or phone number the Twitter account holder provided for safety and security purposes,” the post adds.

Can Google Ads Change Your Beliefs?

There are advertisers in the digital marketing industry who want to find out how effective this new form of social engineering is. One of those advertisers is Google. Redirect Method was a Google-incubated project that used redirect ads to deradicalize would-be extremists. In the first eight weeks of 2016, some 320,000 people — all of whom were believed to harbor sympathy toward the Islamic State — clicked on ads designed to reflect an interest in extremist content. Instead of arriving at a page that supported their views, Islamic State sympathizers who clicked the ads found themselves directed to a playlist of videos debunking the terror group’s recruitment narratives. Most of the visitors stuck around. Together, they watched more than half a million minutes of video.

After the ISIS campaign ended, Google left behind a blueprint.

The blueprint shows, step by step, how you can create your own redirect ads to sway any belief or opinion — held by any Google user, anywhere in the world — of your choice. You don’t have to be a marketer with years of experience to do this. You just need to follow the instructions and put up a credit card (a few hundred bucks will suffice). Recently, I followed the blueprint and created a redirect campaign of my own… The goal of my first redirect campaign was to sway the ideology of suicidal people.

Nearly one in three apparently suicidal searchers who viewed his ad then dialed his hotline number — which then forwarded the calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. But he expressed surprise that Google “let me run the ads with no issue… I didn’t need qualifications to be a conduit of peoples’ fates.” He later tried creating another campaign for prospective school shooters, “but the conversion rates were low. These prospective shooters were reluctant to speak with someone.”

Yet one study found that more than 50% of people using Google couldn’t distinguish between ads and “organic” results on Google.

Google Chrome ‘Has Become Surveillance Software. It’s Time to Switch’

“You open your browser to look at the Web. Do you know who is looking back at you?” warns Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler.

Over a recent week of Web surfing, I peered under the hood of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the Web. This was made possible by the Web’s biggest snoop of all: Google. Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software…

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality… And that’s not the half of it. Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.

Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends Google your location every time you conduct a search. (If you turn off location sharing it still sends your coordinates out, just with less accuracy.)

The columnist concludes that “having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop,” and argues that through its Doubleclick and other ad businesses, Google “is the No. 1 cookie maker — the Mrs. Fields of the web.”

Millions of Business Listings On Google Maps Are Fake — and Google Profits

Google’s ubiquitous internet platform shapes what’s real and what isn’t for more than two billion monthly users. Yet Google Maps is overrun with millions of false business addresses and fake names, according to advertisers, search experts and current and former Google employees. The ruse lures the unsuspecting to what appear to be Google-suggested local businesses, a costly and dangerous deception. Once considered a sleepy, low-margin business by the company and known mostly for giving travel directions, Google Maps in recent months has packed more ads onto its search queries. It is central to Google parent Alphabet’s hope to recharge a cresting digital-advertising operation.

Often, Google Maps yields mirages, visible in local business searches of U.S. cities, including Mountain View, Calif., Google’s hometown. Of a dozen addresses for personal-injury attorneys on Google Maps during a recent search, only one office was real. A Viennese patisserie was among the businesses at addresses purported to house lawyers. The fakes vanished after inquiries to Google from The Wall Street Journal. The false listings benefit businesses seeking more customer calls by sprinkling made-up branches in various corners of a city. In other cases, as Ms. Carter discovered, calls to listed phone numbers connect to unscrupulous competitors, a misdirection forbidden by Google rules but sporadically policed by the company. Hundreds of thousands of false listings sprout on Google Maps each month, according to experts. Google says it catches many others before they appear.

Facebook Ad Platform Could Be Inherently Discriminatory, Researchers Say

Researchers from Northeastern Unviersity, the University of Southern Carolina, and tech accountability non-profit Upturn have released a paper that says Facebook’s ad delivery system itself can steer ads intended to be inclusive toward discrimination without explicit intent. “In a paper titled, ‘Discrimination through optimization: How Facebook’s ad delivery can lead to skewed outcomes,’ co-authors Muhammad Ali, Piotr Sapiezynski, Miranda Bogen, Aleksandra Korolova, Alan Mislove, and Aaron Rieke find that advertiser budgets and ad content affect ad delivery, skewing it along gender and racial lines even when neutral ad targeting settings are used,” reports The Register. From the report:
The researchers found that Facebook ads tend to be shown to men because women tend to click on ads more often, making them more expensive to reach through Facebook’s system. That divide becomes apparent when ad budgets are compared, because the ad budget affects ad distribution. As the paper explains, “the higher the daily budget, the smaller the fraction of men in the audience.” Such segregation may be appropriate and desirable for certain types of marketing pitches, but when applied to credit, employment and housing ads, the consequences can be problematic.

Ad content — text and images — also has a strong effect on whether ads get shown to men or women, even when the bidding strategy is the same and gender-agnostic targeting is used. In particular, the researchers found images had a surprisingly large effect on ad delivery. Ad URL destination has some effect — an ad pointing to a bodybuilding site and an ad pointing to a cosmetics site had a baseline delivery distribution of 48 percent men and 40 percent men respectively. The addition of a title and headline doesn’t change that much. But once the researchers added an image to the ad, the distribution pattern changed, with the bodybuilding site ad reaching an audience that was 75 percent male and the cosmetics ad reaching an audience that was 90 percent female. According to the researchers, their tests suggest, “Facebook has an automated image classification mechanism in place that is used to steer different ads towards different subsets of the user population.”

“In terms of credit, employment and housing ads, the problem with this system is that it discriminates where it shouldn’t: Five ads for lumber industry jobs were delivered to an audience that was more than 90 percent men and more than 70 percent white; five ads for janitorial work were delivered to an audience that was more than 65 percent women and 75 percent black,” the report adds. “Housing ads also showed a racial skew.”

The latest findings come after years of criticism of Facebook’s ad system. Last month, Facebook announced changes to the platform intended to prevent advertisers from deploying unfair credit, employment and housing ads. One week later, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook for violating the Fair Housing Act.

Two-Thirds of Consumers Don’t Expect Google To Track Them the Way It Does

Last summer, an AP investigation found that Google’s location tracking remains on even if you turn it off in Google Maps, Search, and other apps. Research from Vanderbilt professor Douglas Schmidt found that Google engages in “passive” data collection, often without the user’s knowledge. His research also showed that Google utilizes data collected from other sources to de-anonymize existing user data.

Digital Content Next, the trade association of online publishers, surveyed a nationally representative sample to find out what people expect from Google — and, as with a similar study we conducted last year about Facebook, the results were unsettling.

Our findings show that many of Google’s data practices deviate from consumer expectations. We find it even more significant that consumer’s expectations are at an all-time low even after 2018, a year in which awareness around consumer privacy reached peak heights.

The results of the study are consistent with our Facebook study: People don’t want surveillance advertising. A majority of consumers indicated they don’t expect to be tracked across Google’s services, let alone be tracked across the web in order to make ads more targeted.

There was only one question where a small majority of respondents felt that Google was acting according to their expectations. That was about Google merging data from search queries with other data it collects on its own services. They also don’t expect Google to connect the data back to the user’s personal account, but only by a small majority. Google began doing both of these in 2016 after previously promising it wouldn’t.

Unearthed Emails Show Google, Ad Giants Know They Break Privacy Laws

Privacy warriors have filed fresh evidence in their ongoing battle against real-time web ad exchange systems, which campaigners claim trample over Europe’s data protection laws. The new filings — submitted today to regulators in the UK, Ireland, and Poland — allege that Google and industry body the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) are well aware that their advertising networks flout the EU’s privacy-safeguarding GDPR, and yet are doing nothing about it. The IAB, Google — which is an IAB member — and others in the ad-slinging world insist they aren’t doing anything wrong. The fresh submissions come soon after the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed plans to probe programmatic ads. These are adverts that are selected and served on-the-fly as you visit a webpage, using whatever personal information has been scraped together about you to pick an ad most relevant to your interests. […] The ICO’s investigation will focus on how well informed people are about how their personal information is used for this kind of online advertising, which laws ad-technology firms rely on for processing said private data, and whether users’ data is secure as it is shared on these platforms.

Facebook decided which users are interested in Nazis—and let advertisers target them directly

Facebook makes money by charging advertisers to reach just the right audience for their message–even when that audience is made up of people interested in the perpetrators of the Holocaust or explicitly neo-Nazi music. Despite promises of greater oversight following past advertising scandals, a Times review shows that Facebook has continued to allow advertisers to target hundreds of thousands of users the social media firm believes are curious about topics such as “Joseph Goebbels,” “Josef Mengele,” “Heinrich Himmler,” the neo-nazi punk band Skrewdriver and Benito Mussolini’s long-defunct National Fascist Party.

Experts say that this practice runs counter to the company’s stated principles and can help fuel radicalization online. “What you’re describing, where a clear hateful idea or narrative can be amplified to reach more people, is exactly what they said they don’t want to do and what they need to be held accountable for,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s center on extremism. After being contacted by The Times, Facebook said that it would remove many of the audience groupings from its ad platform.

Facebook’s broad reach and sophisticated advertising tools brought in a record $55 billion in ad revenue in 2018. Profit margins stayed above 40%, thanks to a high degree of automation, with algorithms sorting users into marketable subsets based on their behavior — then choosing which ads to show them. But the lack of human oversight has also brought the company controversy.

In 2017, Pro Publica found that the company sold ads based on any user-generated phrase, including “Jew hater” and “Hitler did nothing wrong.” Following the murder of 11 congregants at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, the Intercept found that Facebook gave advertisers the ability to target users interested in the anti-Semitic “white genocide conspiracy theory,” which the suspected killer cited as inspiration before the attacks.

Most Facebook users don’t know that it records a list of their interests, new study finds

Seventy-four percent of Facebook users are unaware that Facebook records a list of their interests for ad-targeting purposes, according to a new study from the Pew Institute.

Participants in the study were first pointed to Facebook’s ad preferences page, which lists out a person’s interests. Nearly 60 percent of participants admitted that Facebook’s lists of interests were very or somewhat accurate to their actual interests, and 51 percent said they were uncomfortable with Facebook creating the list.

Facebook has weathered serious questions about its collection of personal information in recent years. CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress last year acknowledging privacy concerns and touching upon the company’s collection of personal information. While Zuckerberg said Facebook users have complete control over the information they upload and the information Facebook uses to actively target ads at its users, it’s clear from the Pew study that most people are not aware of Facebook’s collection tactics.

The Pew study also demonstrates that, while Facebook offers a number of transparency and data control tools, most users are not aware of where they should be looking. Even when the relevant information is located, there are often multiple steps to go through to delete assigned interests.

Several Popular Apps Share Data With Facebook Without User Consent

Some of the most popular apps for Android smartphones, including Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and MyFitnessPal, are transmitting data to Facebook without the consent of users in a potential breach of EU regulations.

In a study of 34 popular Android apps, the campaign group Privacy International found that at least 20 of them send certain data to Facebook the second that they are opened on a phone, before users can be asked for permission. Information sent instantly included the app’s name, the user’s unique ID with Google, and the number of times the app was opened and closed since being downloaded. Some, such as travel site Kayak, later sent detailed information about people’s flight searches to Facebook, including travel dates, whether the user had children and which flights and destinations they had searched for. European law on data-sharing changed in May with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation and mobile apps are required to have the explicit consent of users before collecting their personal information.

As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants

Internal documents show that the social network gave Microsoft, Amazon, Spotify and others far greater access to people’s data than it has disclosed.

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

Facebook has been reeling from a series of privacy scandals, set off by revelations in March that a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly used Facebook data to build tools that aided President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Acknowledging that it had breached users’ trust, Facebook insisted that it had instituted stricter privacy protections long ago. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, assured lawmakers in April that people “have complete control” over everything they share on Facebook.

[Facebook’s strategy in times of crisis: delay, deny and deflect.]

Facebook began forming data partnerships when it was still a relatively young company. Mr. Zuckerberg was determined to weave Facebook’s services into other sites and platforms, believing it would stave off obsolescence and insulate Facebook from competition. Every corporate partner that integrated Facebook data into its online products helped drive the platform’s expansion, bringing in new users, spurring them to spend more time on Facebook and driving up advertising revenue. At the same time, Facebook got critical data back from its partners.

The partnerships were so important that decisions about forming them were vetted at high levels, sometimes by Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, Facebook officials said. While many of the partnerships were announced publicly, the details of the sharing arrangements typically were confidential.

Facebook also allowed Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users’ private messages, and to see all participants on a thread — privileges that appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems, the records show. Facebook acknowledged that it did not consider any of those three companies to be service providers. Spokespeople for Spotify and Netflix said those companies were unaware of the broad powers Facebook had granted them. A spokesman for Netflix said Wednesday that it had used the access only to enable customers to recommend TV shows and movies to their friends.

A Royal Bank of Canada spokesman disputed that the bank had had any such access. (Aspects of some sharing partnerships, including those with the Royal Bank of Canada and Bing, were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.)

Spotify, which could view messages of more than 70 million users a month, still offers the option to share music through Facebook Messenger. But Netflix and the Canadian bank no longer needed access to messages because they had deactivated features that incorporated it.

These were not the only companies that had special access longer than they needed it. Yahoo, The Times and others could still get Facebook users’ personal information in 2017.

Yahoo could view real-time feeds of friends’ posts for a feature that the company had ended in 2012. A Yahoo spokesman declined to discuss the partnership in detail but said the company did not use the information for advertising. The Times — one of nine media companies named in the documents — had access to users’ friend lists for an article-sharing application it had discontinued in 2011. A spokeswoman for the news organization said it was not obtaining any data.

Facebook’s internal records also revealed more about the extent of sharing deals with over 60 makers of smartphones, tablets and other devices, agreements first reported by The Times in June.

Facebook empowered Apple to hide from Facebook users all indicators that its devices were asking for data. Apple devices also had access to the contact numbers and calendar entries of people who had changed their account settings to disable all sharing, the records show.

Apple officials said they were not aware that Facebook had granted its devices any special access. They added that any shared data remained on the devices and was not available to anyone other than the users.

YouTube’s Top-Earner For 2018 Is a 7-Year-Old

In 2018 the most-downloaded iPhone app was YouTube, reports USA Today, while Amazon’s best-selling item was their Fire TV Stick for streaming video. The No. 1 earner on YouTube this year is 7-year-old Ryan. For all those unboxing videos and playing with toys — and his own new line of toys at Walmart — he and his family will pull in a cool $22 million, according to Forbes. Ryan launched the channel in 2015 — when he was four — and now has 17.3 million followers.

NBCUniversal Taps Machine Learning to Tie Ads to Relevant Moments on TV

NBCUniversal announced a new machine learning tool today that helps brands place ads around scenes relevant to their product across any of the media giant’s broadcast and cable properties. The Contextual Intelligence Platform analyzes programming scripts, closed captioning data and visual descriptors of both ads and shows to find opportune moments for a given advertiser to appear as well as an emotional gauge for each scene determined by proprietary algorithms.

Focus groups for ads placed with the platform thus far have shown an average bump of 19 percent in brand memorability, 13 percent in likability and 64 percent in message memorability, according to Josh Feldman, vp and head of marketing and advertising creative, NBCU. The announcement comes as linear television providers continue to grapple with how to bring digital targeting practices to a medium that still largely operates on traditional phone-call media buying and manual ad placements. NBCU is now working with three to five advertisers for the system’s beta-test, and is aiming for an official release date early next year.

“Influencers” Are Being Paid Big Sums To Pitch Products and Thrash Rivals on Instagram and YouTube

“Influencers” are being paid big sums to pitch products on Instagram and YouTube. If you’re trying to grow a product on social media, you either fork over cash or pay in another way. This is the murky world of influencing, reports Wired. Brands will pay influencers to position products on their desks, behind them, or anywhere else they can subtly appear on screen. Payouts increase if an influencer tags a brand in a post or includes a link, but silent endorsements are often preferred.

Marketers of literature, wellness, fashion, entertainment, and other wares are all hooked on influencers. As brands have warmed to social-media advertising, influencer marketing has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. Unlike traditional television or print ads, influencers have dedicated niche followings who take their word as gospel.

There’s another plus: Many users don’t view influencers as paid endorsers or salespeople—even though a significant percentage are—but as trusted experts, friends, and “real” people. This perceived authenticity is part of why brands shell out so much cash in exchange for a brief appearance in your Instagram feed.

Google Is Teaching Children How to Act Online. Is It the Best Role Model?

Google is on a mission to teach children how to be safe online. That is the message behind “Be Internet Awesome,” a so-called digital-citizenship education program that the technology giant developed for schools.

The lessons include a cartoon game branded with Google’s logo and blue, red, yellow and green color palette. The game is meant to help students from third grade through sixth guard against schemers, hackers and other bad actors.

But critics say the company’s recent woes — including revelations that it was developing a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market and had tracked the whereabouts of users who had explicitly turned off their location history — should disqualify Google from promoting itself in schools as a model of proper digital conduct.

Among other things, these critics argue, the company’s lessons give children the mistaken impression that the main threat they face online is from malicious hackers and bullies, glossing over the privacy concerns that arise when tech giants like Google itself collect users’ personal information and track their actions online.

American corporate giants are no strangers to the country’s schools.

In the 1970s, General Motors circulated a free booklet in public schools that featured cartoon characters like Harry Hydrocarbon, who played down concerns about the health risks of industrial pollution and suggested that air pollution would soon not be a problem, according to a 1979 report, “Hucksters in the Classroom: A Review of Industry Propaganda in Schools.”

In the 1990s, Procter & Gamble promoted its own curriculum, “Decision: Earth,” in schools. Among other things, it instructed children that synthetic diapers were no more harmful for the environment than cloth diapers.

Around the same time, Campbell Soup sponsored a classroom kit called the “Prego Thickness Experiment.” According to a 1997 article in The New York Times, “Corporate Classrooms and Commercialism,” the kit was supposed to teach children the scientific method — by having them “prove” that Prego pasta sauce was thicker than rival Ragu.

Critics see a similar self-serving agenda with “Be Internet Awesome,” which presents malicious third parties as the primary online threat to children, while failing to teach them how to navigate corporate data-mining practices.

Now Apps Can Track You Even After You Uninstall Them

If it seems as though the app you deleted last week is suddenly popping up everywhere, it may not be mere coincidence. Companies that cater to app makers have found ways to game both iOS and Android, enabling them to figure out which users have uninstalled a given piece of software lately—and making it easy to pelt the departed with ads aimed at winning them back.

Adjust, AppsFlyer, MoEngage, Localytics, and CleverTap are among the companies that offer uninstall trackers, usually as part of a broader set of developer tools. Their customers include T-Mobile US, Spotify Technology, and Yelp. (And Bloomberg Businessweek parent Bloomberg LP, which uses Localytics.) Critics say they’re a fresh reason to reassess online privacy rights and limit what companies can do with user data.

Uninstall tracking exploits a core element of Apple Inc.’s and Google’s mobile operating systems: push notifications. Developers have always been able to use so-called silent push notifications to ping installed apps at regular intervals without alerting the user—to refresh an inbox or social media feed while the app is running in the background, for example. But if the app doesn’t ping the developer back, the app is logged as uninstalled, and the uninstall tracking tools add those changes to the file associated with the given mobile device’s unique advertising ID, details that make it easy to identify just who’s holding the phone and advertise the app to them wherever they go.

At its best, uninstall tracking can be used to fix bugs or otherwise refine apps without having to bother users with surveys or more intrusive tools. But the ability to abuse the system beyond its original intent exemplifies the bind that accompanies the modern internet, says Gillula. To participate, users must typically agree to share their data freely, probably forever, not knowing exactly how it may be used down the road. “As an app developer, I would expect to be able to know how many people have uninstalled an app,” he says. “I would not say that, as an app developer, you have a right to know exactly who installed and uninstalled your app.”