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The real hard questions about shadow profiles

In January, we wrote about Facebook's Hard Questions blog, in which the company seeks to address some
April 16 · Issue #120 · View online
The Interface
In January, we wrote about Facebook’s Hard Questions blog, in which the company seeks to address some of the thornier questions it faces. As we wrote at the time:
The drama of reading it lies in seeing how far the company will go in criticizing itself. For the most part it comes across as a good-faith effort to grapple with conversations around terrorism, psychology, and other tricky topics. And yet by its very nature, the blog seems designed to gently rebut criticism rather than absorb it. 
I thought of these lines today while reading the latest post on Hard Questions: What Data Does Facebook Collect When I’m Not Using Facebook, and Why? On its surface, it’s unclear to me why this question counts as hard. Facebook knows well the total dimensions of its data collection practices, and its justifications for those practices were established long ago.
What’s changed is that these shadow profiles — a term Facebook takes pains never to use — are in the news as never before. We covered this at some length Thursday, as shadow profiles became one of the great hanging threads of last week’s congressional hearings.
David Baser, a product management director for data privacy, described the company’s approach this way: “Whether it’s information from apps and websites, or information you share with other people on Facebook, we want to put you in control — and be transparent about what information Facebook has and how it is used. We’ll keep working to make that easier.”
Baser goes through the operation in good detail. Did you know that your logged-out usage of Facebook influences what you see in the News Feed? I didn’t:
The information we receive also helps us improve the content and ads we show on Facebook. So if you visit a lot of sports sites that use our services, you might see sports-related stories higher up in your News Feed. If you’ve looked at travel sites, we can show you ads for hotels and rental cars.
Baser also describes the “controls” you have over the data that Facebook collects, including the ability to opt out of ad targeting. He stops short of noting that you can’t opt out altogether. Facebook will continue to monitor your logged-out visits to public pages; it will continue to store your contact information if a friend provides it; it will continue to build a social graph to have waiting for you if and when you decide to create an account. 
Should it be able to? That’s a sincerely hard question, and on this blog post it goes unasked.

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Frederick Humphries
Microsoft supports the Honest Ads Act. We're committed to working with policymakers on federal legislation that is effective and promotes responsibility and transparency across all participants in the online advertising ecosystem.
2:47 PM - 10 Apr 2018
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And finally ...
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