The fox

Sen. Leahy has a Facebook pixel, invisible to users, that gathers user data of Facebook users who visit the site. (For a quick primer on what “pixels” do, visit Facebook’s resource guide on the data-gathering tool.)

That’s right, if you visit Senator Leahy’s campaign website, it’s likely your data, including your demographics and what pages you looked at on the site, have been placed into a custom data targeting audience by Leahy’s team.

Here is more, via @tedfrank.  You will note that Leahy was one of the interlocutors who confronted Zuckerberg over the privacy issue.


I will assume that a 78 year old Senator does not know exactly how his web page works. Still, this does show the nature of integration between social media and government. Some guy, several layers down in the Senator's organization, or more likely contracted out, did what he thought was obvious.

Built infrastructure is hard to reverse.

Nonsense. You can bet that Leahy is aware that his website people are gathering data. He likely doesn't know how its being done, granted, but he knows that it IS being done. To think otherwise would be to regard Leahy as incompetent.

This is what the internet is. The coding language was designed to allow gathering information and to make security difficult to impossible. The internet was "hi-jacked" early on by the big money users and since then it has been designed to fill their needs not your needs.

Yeah right, "gathering data" is as good as a wink to a blind man.

"People would later say there was something off about him, almost as if he were 'gathering data.'"

It's OK. He's a democrat. It was OK when Facebook intentionally, joyfully helped the magic man.

How much money did Leahy get from Zuckerberg or his covert agents?

I have been miserably myopic about academics and their research/studies in that I thought it is driven by dogma/ideology driven. That's a part. It's also affected by who pays. There are liars. There are damned liars. And, there are academics.

Some of It makes sense when one assumes academic research is "made as instructed."

You'd be pissing your knickers if it was Ted Cruz.

It seems to me you guys are trying on a hypocracy argument that can never work, because your own mountain of hypocrisy gets in the way.

Here is the simple, defining, question:

do you support expanded privacy laws?

If not, how can you blame anyone for using the current system?

Let's not kid ourselves. Your pardon for Senator Leahy's "violation of privacy" that is "dangerous to our democracy" and is one of the ways "nefarious actors" "hack our elections" is such a blatant example of partisan bias and hypocrisy that is lays bare the truth:

The current assault on Facebook is not about privacy. The Democrat party does not care about privacy (and there are mountains of evidence for this) and the Democrat base does not care about privacy (see: Anonymous, notorious partisan). This is about threatening Facebook with regulatory costs if Facebook does not step up the censorship of conservative news, analysis, and commentary.

Not a very good or nuanced answer, and as I say, stuck on that one big thing.

If you reserve "data mining" for yourself and your party, if you oppose privacy protections, you look pretty darn silly saying "yeah, and while we mine you, Democrats can't .. because they say it is wrong."

"and while we mine you, Democrats can't .. because they say it is wrong.""

This is silly. Indeed, the truth is nearly backward from what you describe. The Obama campaign used a massive amount of FB data most of it from linked friends who never agreed to the release of their information to the campaign. The Obama campaign bragged about using this data. The media wrote approving articles.

The same type of FB information was used by the Trump campaign and now it's an issue. Because a Republican did it.

I have been leaving aside that lie, that Obama = Trump on Facebook, because it is not pertinent to this conversation about pixels.

They are not equal, in scope of data, or in honesty of user interaction. Remember, Obama fans were told, Cambridge Analyitica data was stolen.

But that aside, if we are talking about totally up front and legal operations, like Obama and Leahy, what are you complaining about?

This is the world you want, where "more regulation" is wrong on its face.

"I have been leaving aside that lie, that Obama = Trump on Facebook"

It's not a lie. It's a relevant comparison. You just suffer from cognitive dissonance and refuse to accept the relevance.

I can't believe that you are going with:

"Obama asked for contacts, like LinkedIn etc have been doing for decades .. but Cambridge Analyitica stole them and that's just the same."

Actually I can believe it. It's who you are.

Straight from Facebook:

In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica. It is against our policies for developers to share data without people's consent, so we immediately banned Kogan's app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications.

Obama stole the data directly, while Trump bought the stolen data. Not too much different, but I'd say stealing directly is worse. At least Trump can claim he didn't know.

"Remember, Obama fans were told,"

A charitable interpretation is that your statement is hyperbolic.

Here's one of the many, glowing articles detailing the process from 2012.

"More than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote or look at a video designed to change their mind.
Early tests of the system found statistically significant changes in voter behavior. "

So, 600K gave the Obama campaign access to 5 million people that never volunteered their data and yet were specifically targeted.

"yeah, and while we mine you, Democrats can't .. because they say it is wrong.""

If you weren't such a partisan you would realize that getting 600K people to give contact information on another 5 million people is data mining.

Are you spinning or not understanding?

When LinkedIn asks you for your contacts, and you say yes, what is the ratio "yeses to contacts?"

Of course when they said "may we have your contacts" that led to many contacts.


"you asked, I stole. what's the difference?" - JWatts

Wow, that's an awesome strawman post. You even attached my name to it. Gee, wasn't that clever.

"Of course when they said "may we have your contacts" that led to many contacts.


Good, now that we have that cleared up, would you like to admit that the Obama campaign used data mining to get millions of peoples information from their facebook friends? And then used it for targeted ads?

Because those are basic facts and if you can't admit that, then you have a cognitive dissonance issue.

Informed consent matters.

Now off with you, to practice your
Comey lies.

Data that is willfully made public is not stolen, despite your lies.

In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica. It is against our policies for developers to share data without people's consent, so we immediately banned Kogan's app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications.

Point to the part where you show that taking publicly available data is theft.

You guys are self-owning, right here in front of everyone you are declaring that a theft of data is the same as informed consent.

Man, the Republicans have learned well from the Russians. Spin, deflect, confuse, divert attention, throw up dust.

- @john_sipher

i360 has responded to that horrible imbalance. Facebook will sell data to anyone with an interest in it - and the ability to pay, of course.

i360 is much more selective in its clients. Leahy, for example is simply not the sort of person that i360 wants a relationship with to provide the following - 'Our team of data scientists build and refine proven, sophisticated models that enable us to predict behaviors and actions, such as the likelihood to support or oppose an issue, redeem a coupon, subscribe to an email list or even purchase a particular brand or product. This knowledge is powerful, informing messaging and enhancing your ability to target and reach the right customer to achieve success at scale.'

It wouldn't surprise me if the Senator himself is oblivious to what's on his website. And even if apprised of it would just assume that of course it's not a big deal if his office does it, because he wouldn't ever use the information for harm.

So, some senator is playing minor league games compared to what i360 offers - 'At i360® we believe THE DATA IS THE DIFFERENCE. But what does that mean? Simply put, it means integrating data in everything we do to produce the most effective outcomes for every one of our clients.

At the core of the i360 operation is a comprehensive database of all 18+ American consumers and voters containing thousands of pieces of individual and aggregated information that give us the full picture of who they are, where they live, what they do and what is happening around them. Leveraging this and our capabilities in data science, analytics, technology development and advertising, we help clients take their efforts to the next level by embracing the concept of truly borderless data.'

Though it seems quite possible that a man like Senator Leahy is not the sort of client that 1360 would offer its services to.

If everyone has our secrets, is that the same as no one does?

Interesting question. One that does not arise if you consider your data your property, to which others are not entitled to beyond your permission to let them have it.

i360, for example, would have no effective business model in a country like Germany, where every citizen has the right to examine what personal data is kept by a company, and to demand the deletion of that data if the person does not want it kept by such a company.

Privacy laws are communist, so instead we must live in a surveillance state, no wait ..

As long as it is a for profit surveillance state, it cannot be communist.

Does the Senator sell the information gathered from his web site to the highest bidder? Or does the Senator use the information for political outreach and fund raising for his campaigns? To be clear, I don't support regulating Facebook, in large part because it would be ineffective: Facebook, having chosen a business model based on exploiting users' personal information to sell advertising, won't go gently into the night. I'm with Tim Wu on this: Facebook is too corrupted to change its ways. The better way is another web site with a different business model, one based on charging users a reasonable fee for the service rather than surreptitiously exploiting users' personal information. Alas, the better way may not appeal to most Facebook users because they place such a low value on their personal information. Should those users have the Facebook option? Yes.

As you know, Facebook doesn't sell the info, they sell optimized ad space

Likewise, the government won't sell your info, they'll use it to optimize their campaigns

Good, we need more of this info out there. Nothing new that politicians are hypocrites. Leahy is as bad as any of them. Doesn’t mean you let FB off the hook.

Letting everyone know about how utterly ubiquitous Facebook's data collection has become is a good thing.

When Prof. Cowen points such practices out, it just strengthens the case for better data privacy, after all.

Seriously, Tyler and Alex, please do something about the screen width resizing. That giant table from several days ago is causing me to have to scroll horizontally to read all of any post.

"Good, we need more of this info out there..."

well, your duly elected government representatives certainly NEED as much information as possible about us. Those officials control & regulate virtually every aspects of your life -- they MUST have access to all your significant personal data in order to properly perform their critical governing duties,
You can NOT expect your government to serve you without the proper tools. We can NOT survive without the US Senate, in particular.

Thank Heavens that Congress and Federal Government are not dependent on FaceBook info -- the NSA thankfully vacuums up every bit of electronic information on all of us. It is the American Way (now).

'certainly NEED as much information as possible about us'

i360 certainly agrees with that statement - 'i360’s comprehensive data is a unique combination of hard data points and predictive modeling. Our dataset incorporates extensive political identification, coalition and membership information collected by way of in-person, phone and online surveys, as well as through partner relationships in addition to lifestyle and consumer data collected from multiple top-tier providers. Our data is further enhanced by our suite of predictive models, filling in gaps and helping us build the most complete profile for every individual possible.'

Though it is unlikely that i360 will ever take on someone with Leahy's background as a client.

That is not how ANY of this works. A pixel is used to track actions, yes, but it doesn't share demographic information. It is used to track user behavior after seeing an ad (ie, did you buy/donate). Doesn't make it a good thing, but stop with the FUD, please.

Pixels are EVERYWHERE, the CEI website you linked to includes Google Analytics and DoubleClick advertising trackers, which are just as bad. Can I write a blog post about so that you'll link to it, too?

'but it doesn't share demographic information'

Well, not to Senator Leahy's web site, that is true. It certainly allows Facebook access to information that a user may not have wanted to share with Facebook - much less that the user is even aware that such tracking is occurring.

Ad tracking can be anonymized, but this is Facebook. They have kind of a reputation of providing non-anonymized user data. Which are they offering on this page?

As an aside, my Chromium on Debian is telling me that it is blocking unsafe scripts from this MR page right now.

Seriously? I use SeaMonkey on opensuse, and generally have JS turned off. I do get a consistent warning that 'Insecure information on this page was blocked' but the idea of malicious scripts is a bit surprising - this place does not use any ad network served data, to my knowledge, the normal vector for such things (and the reason why ad blocking is a security measure first and foremost).

What was really surprising last week at a (German) library computer was how it shut off the session several times with a warning about something along the means of 'sabotage warning' when visiting the dailybeast and either salon or slate. Amazing.

To be precise it says:

"This page is trying to load scripts from unauthenticated sources."

Chromium says MR is secure/trusted, but apparently it is pulling scripts from someone without good certificates in place.

Yes, that is different than malicious/unsafe scripts. As it is, SeaMonkey blocks them anyway, with the option to unblock.

I said "unsafe" for some reason you made that into "malicious."

Scripts without valid authorization are unsafe.

The unsafe was in connection to those sabotage mode session shutdowns - and those scripts were clearly both unsafe and also malicious. But sure, in a https situation, unsafe and malicious are two entirely different things. It made a real impression on me - I rarely go to American web sites on the library computer, but to have two different mainstream web sites cause a session shutdown was eye opening, in an unpleasant way.

It's kinda like "unsafe" drinking water. It may not make you sick, but then again it might.

So, no Facebook data, no problem.

Problem solved.

Perhaps a privacy solution would be to not to try to deny these data gleaners their data, but to make the data they gather unreliable by putting out lots and lots of data that's truthy but false?

If I remember well a Facebook user only owns the content (images, video, sound) and information of a Facebook profile or page. That means Facebook owns pixel and rents it for a certain fee.

This is a bit like illegal drugs. There's sales/trafficking(offer), and there's possession (demand). Usually, the demand is punished with civil penalties and fines while the offer gets higher fines or prison time.

In popular culture, It's more common to punish the seller (FB) than the consumer (the senator).

So, is Tyler suggesting that consumers should be punished as strongly as consumers? What would happen with illegal-drugs, prostitution, gambling?

So, ah, did you ever notice that you get a cookie for visiting the MR site.

What is your privacy policy

What information do you gather.

Senator Leahy wants to know.

Everyone loves a cookie, right? Especially when the browser settings do not allow third party cookies, and all cookies are deleted when the browser is closed.

As for the privacy policy, at least in the past when there was a link, it started as 'Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisici elit....'

I not really a fan of Leahy, but in general I think these types of arguments are pretty shallow. There is a difference between how you believe the game should be set up, and how you play the game.

Would you criticize a company says 'money should be brought out of politics' but engages in lobbying? What about someone who wants to reform tax loopholes, but takes deductions?

Much more problematic imho is people who publicly say that they do not want the rules to change, but act to circumvent those rules privately.

The problem is government is likely to be exempt from any regulation

I agree.

However I just want to point that what Leahy is doing is arguably worse than what Facebook does (I'm not insisting it's worse, just saying it's arguable). The reason is that Leahy is giving away people's information to Facebook (and probably many other advertising platforms), without asking their permission or telling them, but Facebook is not giving away personal information to anyone else without explicit permission. The huge exception is of course the situation for which they are under trial, where Facebook enabled users to give away their friends' information to another app, but Facebook ended that practice years ago.

So, let me get this straight.

If I go to your house and knock on the door to talk to you or engage in conversation with other words, to engage in a conversation with you...its alright for the person who answers the knock on the door to ask who I am, or to recognize me.

But, its not alright if I go to that persons website, knock on its door, read its material, or engage in activity on it and not tell who I am.

In both cases, the person sought to engage voluntarily with either the person or the site.

Now, if there is a cookie that is being placed on my computer that tracks me and doesn't disclose that it does, or the site doesn't have a privacy policy that tells me what it does with its data, like this Marginal Revolution site, that's different: its a cookie and there is no privacy policy.

The line between Onion headlines and the real news continues to narrow: "Congress Demands To Know How Facebook Got People To Give Up Their Civil Liberties Without A Fight"

+1, the employee video at the bottom was hilarious

Will the true culprits of privacy violations be put on trial? Place a giant mirror where Zuckerberg is seated and have Congress ask themselves questions. Honest conversations are very rare.

Not only is it hypocritical, but it's arguably far more concerning when members of Congress and the U.S. government uses these types of data collection practices since they can use them, not just for campaign outreach, but also potentially to supplement government surveillance, investigation and prosecution. Even if you find Facebook's "invasion of privacy" uncomfortable, the worst case scenarios of what Facebook does with that data, is by and large pretty benign compared to what the government can do with it. It makes the entire kabuki theater of members of congress grilling Zuckerberg about this pretty absurd, albeit not surprising.

After reading this post, my co-workers and I had some fun with Tag Assistant. Every member of Congress we looked up had, at a minimum, a GA tag on their site as well as a Facebook button (which was something else that came up during the meetings).

Ted Cruz has six tags on his site, including Floodlight, Global, GA, and two Tag Manager tags (in addition to whatever else is contained within them).

My experience is more on the Google side, but I'm pretty sure that GA collects a hell of a lot more info than Facebook. Also pretty sure that any member of Congress who didn't have GA on their site would fire their developer for that oversight.

+1 I also read the the full text of what Tyler cited, and he omitted what it further said:

"Does this sound nefarious? Is Senator Leahy violating the privacy of users who visit his campaign site? Of course not, it’s a well-established online advertising tool employed by millions of businesses and organizations."

If anything, I think this gave him MORE authority to talk about the issue - at least, these mean that he (or at least his staff) understands the problems of privacy and Facebook.

Good old Senate! With Russia's approval, Syria's killing people with chemical weapons, we've got a trillion-dollar deficit, and the old boys are holding hearings on the exact least important thing in the world, Facebook.

This encouraged me to check and confirm that indeed The New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR News sites all have Facebook pixels installed as well.

I think it could also be clarified that the Facebook pixel does not give Facebook information to the pixel owner; it is a means for the pixel owner to give information about their customers to Facebook.

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