Facebook blocks Signal’s Instagram ad account

Signal intended to use Instagram to show how the social media giant collects and misuses consumer data

Signal is an independent non-profit encrypted messaging service. AFP
Signal is an independent non-profit encrypted messaging service. AFP

Facebook blocked encrypted messaging app Signal from running a series of Instagram ads that would show users the personal data the photo-sharing network and its social media behemoth owner collect from them.

“Signal tried to use Instagram ads to display the data Facebook collects about you and sells access to. Facebook wasn't into the idea and shut down our account instead,” said Moxie Marlinspike, an American entrepreneur and computer security researcher, who rolled out Signal in July 2014.

Instagram ads are paid-for posts that businesses use to push into users' Instagram feeds.

Signal created a “multi-variant targeted ad” designed to show users the personal data that Facebook gathers for advertising purposes or sells to other businesses. It intended to use Instagram’s third-party advertising tools to expose the "clear-cut targeting of naïve customers" but was denied access.

“Being transparent about how ads use people’s data is apparently enough to get banned … in Facebook’s world, the only acceptable usage is to hide what you’re doing from your audience,” Signal said in a statement.

“Companies like Facebook aren’t building technology for you, they’re building technology for your data. They collect everything they can from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp in order to sell visibility into people and their lives,” it added.

Facebook did not immediately respond to The National’s request for comment.

Disabled Instagram ad account of Signal.

Signal is an open-sourced application in which users can check its software code to ensure their confidential data is safe. Earlier this year, the messaging app witnessed a meteoric rise in downloads after Facebook-owned WhatsApp updated its privacy terms, sparking widespread concern from users.

Signal, which has been endorsed by billionaire Elon Musk, was downloaded almost 7.5 million times globally through the Apple App Store and Google Play in just five days in January.

“The way most of the internet works today would be considered intolerable if translated into comprehensible real world analogues, but it endures because it is invisible,” Signal said.

The company posted some examples of the blocked ads on its blog under the headline, "The Instagram ads Facebook won't show you".

One ad read: "You got this ad because you're a newlywed pilates instructor and you're cartoon crazy …. you’re either vegan or lactose intolerant and you’re really feeling that yoga lately … you’re into natural skin care and you’ve supported Cardi B since day one.”

Signal said the ads are the “glimmers that reflect the world of a surveilling stranger who knows you … we wanted to use those same tools [of Facebook] to directly highlight how most technology works”.

Targeted advertising is a lucrative business for Facebook. Monthly users across its family of apps – Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp – surged almost 5 per cent to 3.5 billion in the three months to March 31.

Courtesy Signal
Courtesy Signal

Facebook's advertising business relies on precise data tracking that selects which ads are more profitable to show users. The company attributed the significant increase in its last quarter’s earnings to a rise in the average price per ad and surge in the number of ads delivered.

The social networking company’s first-quarter net profit soared more than 93 per cent annually to $9.4 billion in the three months to March 31.

Published: May 5, 2021 10:12 AM


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