Meta Wants EU Users To Apply For Permission To Opt Out of Data Collection

Meta announced that starting next Wednesday, some Facebook and Instagram users in the European Union will for the first time be able to opt out of sharing first-party data used to serve highly personalized ads, The Wall Street Journal reported. The move marks a big change from Meta’s current business model, where every video and piece of content clicked on its platforms provides a data point for its online advertisers. Ars Technica reports: People “familiar with the matter” told the Journal that Facebook and Instagram users will soon be able to access a form that can be submitted to Meta to object to sweeping data collection. If those requests are approved, those users will only allow Meta to target ads based on broader categories of data collection, like age range or general location. This is different from efforts by other major tech companies like Apple and Google, which prompt users to opt in or out of highly personalized ads with the click of a button. Instead, Meta will review objection forms to evaluate reasons provided by individual users to end such data collection before it will approve any opt-outs. It’s unclear what cause Meta may have to deny requests.

A Meta spokesperson told Ars that Meta is not sharing the objection form publicly at this time but that it will be available to EU users in its Help Center starting on April 5. That’s the deadline Meta was given to comply with an Irish regulator’s rulings that it was illegal in the EU for Meta to force Facebook and Instagram users to give consent to data collection when they signed contracts to use the platforms. Meta still plans to appeal those Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) rulings, believing that its prior contract’s legal basis complies with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In the meantime, though, the company must change the legal basis for data collection. Meta announced in a blog post today that it will now argue that it does not need to directly obtain user consent because it has a “legitimate interest” to collect data to operate its social platforms. “We believe that our previous approach was compliant under GDPR, and our appeal on both the substance of the rulings and the fines continues,” Meta’s blog said. “However, this change ensures that we comply with the DPC’s decision.”

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Anti-Vaccine Groups Avoid Facebook Bans By Using Emojis

Pizza slices, cupcakes, and carrots are just a few emojis that anti-vaccine activists use to speak in code and continue spreading COVID-19 misinformation on Facebook. Ars Technica reports: Bloomberg reported that Facebook moderators have failed to remove posts shared in anti-vaccine groups and on pages that would ordinarily be considered violating content, if not for the code-speak. One group that Bloomberg reviewed, called “Died Suddenly,” is a meeting ground for anti-vaccine activists supposedly mourning a loved one who died after they got vaccines — which they refer to as having “eaten the cake.” Facebook owner Meta told Bloomberg that “it’s removed more than 27 million pieces of content for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policy, an ongoing process,” but declined to tell Ars whether posts relying on emojis and code-speak were considered in violation of the policy.

According to Facebook community standards, the company says it will “remove misinformation during public health emergencies,” like the pandemic, “when public health authorities conclude that the information is false and likely to directly contribute to the risk of imminent physical harm.” Pages or groups risk being removed if they violate Facebook’s rules or if they “instruct or encourage users to employ code words when discussing vaccines or COVID-19 to evade our detection.” However, the policy remains vague regarding the everyday use of emojis and code words. The only policy that Facebook seems to have on the books directly discussing improper use of emojis as coded language deals with community standards regarding sexual solicitation. It seems that while anti-vaccine users’ emoji-speak can expect to remain unmoderated, anyone using “contextually specific and commonly sexual emojis or emoji strings” does actually risk having posts removed if moderators determine they are using emojis to ask for or offer sex.

In total, Bloomberg reviewed six anti-vaccine groups created in the past year where Facebook users employ emojis like peaches and apples to suggest people they know have been harmed by vaccines. Meta’s seeming failure to moderate the anti-vaccine emoji-speak suggests that blocking code-speak is likely not currently a priority. Last year, when BBC discovered that anti-vaccine groups were using carrots to mask COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, Meta immediately took down the groups identified. However, BBC reported that soon after, the same groups popped back up, and more recently, Bloomberg reported that some of the groups that it tracked seemed to change names frequently, possibly to avoid detection.

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Quest VR Owners Have New Meta Logins To Use Instead of Facebook

Meta will now allow users of its Quest VR headsets to log in with a new Meta account instead of a Facebook account, the company announced on Tuesday. The Verge reports: The company had said in July that this change would be rolling out in August, and it marks a shift from an unpopular policy announced in 2020 that required users to log in to their headsets with a Facebook account instead of a separate Oculus account. Users can create Meta accounts through the Meta mobile app using an email address, Facebook account, or Instagram account. Once you create a Meta account, you’ll need to set up a linked Meta Horizon social profile that will be used in VR. As with Facebook accounts before, you’ll need one of these accounts to use a Quest headset.

“Our new Meta account structure gives you more flexibility and control, letting you choose how you do and don’t show up — and whether Facebook and / or Instagram is part of your experience in VR and other surfaces where you use your Meta Horizon profile,” Meta says in its blog post. If you want to set up a Meta account, the company has instructions in the blog post and in a video. If you are still using an Oculus account, you’ll be able to do so until January 1st, 2023. After that date, you’ll need to make a Meta account. The company says the option to make a Meta account and a Meta Horizon profile is rolling out now, so if you aren’t able to just yet, you should be given the option soon.

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After Mockery, Mark Zuckerberg Promises Better Metaverse Graphics, Post New Avatar

What do you when people hate your $10 billion selfie? “Mark Zuckerberg, in response to a torrent of critical memes mocking the graphics of Meta’s newest project, has heard his critics — and changed his selfie,” reports CNN:

Zuckerberg debuted Horizon Worlds, a virtual reality social app, in France and Spain earlier this week, sharing a somewhat flat, goofy digital avatar in front of an animated Eiffel Tower and la Sagrada Família.

The internet immediately jumped in, mocking what many users viewed as (hopefully) preliminary graphics for a venture that Meta has spent at least $10 billion in the last year.

New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose compared the graphics to “worse than a 2008 Wii game” on Twitter. Slate used the term “buttcheeks.” Twitter was less kind: “eye-gougingly ugly” and “an international laughing stock” popping up. Many compared it to early 90’s graphics and pointed out how lifeless and childish the Zuckerberg selfie looked. It quickly won the designation “dead eyes.”
Well, Zuckerberg has apparently seen the memes, because on Friday he announced there are major updates coming — along with new avatar graphics.

In a CNBC report on how Zuckerberg “is getting dragged on the internet for how ugly the graphics of this game are,” they’d actually quoted a Forbes headline that asked, “Does Mark Zuckerberg not understand how bad his metaverse is?”

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What 21 Billion Facebook Friendships Say About the Economic Ladder In the US

Meta publicly released information on 21 billion Facebook friendships as part of a research project looking at economic inequality in the United States, the company announced today. Along with new insights into the intersection of money and friendships in America, the partnership between Meta and the researchers gives us another look at who Facebook is willing to share data with — and why. The Verge reports: The research team wanted to understand why people in some places in the US were more likely to move between economic brackets than in others. Using the information from Meta, along with other data, a research team built a dataset for a pair of studies on economic mobility, published Monday in the journal Nature. One study found that people who grow up in areas where there are more friendships between high- and low-income people are more likely to move out of poverty and up the economic ladder. “Growing up in a community connected across class lines improves kids’ outcomes and gives them a better shot at rising out of poverty,” Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist and lead researcher on the study, told The New York Times.

Many places, though, don’t allow for much interaction between high- and low-income people, the second of the two studies found. And even when a neighborhood does allow for that kind of interaction, people are still more likely to befriend people in similar economic brackets. […] [T]he full dataset, which covers 21 billion Facebook friendships, is available through Facebook’s Data for Good program. People can search the public-facing website and see the economic connectedness of various communities, including their own. Researchers can download the data for additional studies. […] The new studies offer valuable insight into economic mobility in the US, and the data could help researchers understand how people in the US build relationships.

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