Facebook ad exec hits back at New York Times opinion column

Michal Kosinski, an assistant professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, wrote in the New York Times that Facebook is “eager to monetise” a range of personal characteristics

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Facebook has hit back at a recent New York Times opinion piece that called out the social media giant for “selling user data.”

Rob Goldman, VP Facebook Ads, has replied with a series of tweets, saying that Facebook does not sell people’s data.

Michal Kosinski, an assistant professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, wrote in the New York Times that Facebook is “eager to monetise” a range of personal characteristics. He said advertisers are encouraged to selectively target people on the basis of data such as age, gender or location and other highly personal information such as political views, family size, education, occupation, marital status or interest in a gay dating app. 

Kosinski wrote that in a study he and his colleagues “discovered that advertisers can target users based on their intimate psychological traits, such as personality.” He further added, “If you can think of an important personal characteristic, there’s a good chance it’s targetable on Facebook. Through this ad-targeting system, Facebook discloses facts about you to advertisers, in exchange for money, every time you click on an ad. I’d call that “selling data, and I bet that you would, too.”

Kosniski in his article said that “Facebook is extremely clever at dodging this issue.”  “Facebook's claiming that it is not selling user data is like a bar’s giving away a free martini with every $12 bag of peanuts and then claiming that it’s not selling drinks. Rich user data is Facebook’s most prized possession, and the company sure isn’t throwing it in for free,” he wrote. 

Goldman “fact-checked” NYT back in a series of tweets. Goldman began his series of tweets by pointing out that Facebook does not sell people’s data. “That’s not a dodge or semantics, it’s a fact. We don’t sell or share personal information.”

“It’s is not in our business interest to sell or share personal information with anyone.  Our business model only works if it works for people - if people don’t, they won’t come to Facebook, advertisers won’t be able to reach them, and we won’t have a business,” he tweeted. 

He further added “Clicks do carry certain information about their visitors– where they are generally located, what device they’re using, parameters passed in the URL. That’s true of the clicks you make to any website on the internet. It’s how the internet works, not just how Facebook works.”  

Goldman fired back noting that “FB advertisers do learn about people who click their ads. We provide them with reports, which give them information about the people who clicked. That information is anonymous. We don’t need to tell advertisers who you are for them to know if their ad was effective.”

In his final tweet on the issue, Goldman said, “We know that there is much to do to make ads better, but I am proud of the principles that guide our work.”

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