Weekly output: farm tech, Firefox in the Microsoft Store, Facebook “sensitive” ad targeting (x2), Mark Vena podcast, the “Facebook is listening” myth

I celebrated testing negative after coming back from an international business trip by getting a booster dose of Moderna Saturday. My Sunday has involved two naps and some overall wooziness, none of which I will regret when I’m at CES less than two months from now.

11/8/2021: Poop sensors, drones, and robots: What automation looks like at the farm of the future, Fast Company

Virginia Tech staged a demo of some of its research into farming robotics at Mount Vernon; in writing that up, I noted a report about the lingering problem of inadequate broadband on farms.

Screenshot of this story, as seen in a copy of Mozilla Firefox installed from the Microsoft Store on my Windows 10 laptop11/9/2021: Firefox Arrives in the Microsoft Store, PCMag

Writing this up allowed me to dust off some my writing from the Microsoft antitrust trial over 20 years ago. It cracks me up that Microsoft has now given the browser that dethroned Internet Explorer a spot in its own app store.

11/10/2021: Facebook to Stop Some ‘Sensitive’ Ad Targeting, PCMag

Starting in January, Facebook won’t let advertisers target ads based on the topics you’re supposed to avoid at the Thanksgiving table–politics, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, among others.

11/10/2021: S01 E17 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I rejoined this podcast (also available in video form) to talk about the broadband provisions of the infrastructure bill that President Biden will be signing Monday.

11/11/2021: Facebook ending “sensitive” ad targeting, Al Jazeera

Writing about Facebook’s upcoming change paid off when I was asked to opine about it on this Arabic-language news network a day later.

11/14/2021: No, Facebook isn’t listening to you on your phone, Al Jazeera

I hope the live translation into Arabic got across how ridiculous I think it is that people are still wondering if Facebook’s apps have somehow been secretly eavesdropping on people despite the increasingly strict privacy controls built into Android and iOS, the torrent of leaks out of Facebook over the last year that have yet to reveal such a thing, and the utter insanity of trying this kind of privacy violation after so many governments have taken an intense interest in Facebook’s conduct.

Weekly output: Facebook ads, tech policy in Washington, Facebook tracking

My tweets the past few days have been coming at weird times because I was in Rome from Thursday through this morning for the IFA Global Press Conference. That’s a small spring event hosted by the organizers of the IFA tech trade show that runs in Berlin each summer. They invite a few hundred journalists and analysts–covering their travel costs–and put on a program of product introductions and a panel discussion or two. I’m not quite sure about how this works for the hosts as a business model, but for me it affords an advance look at some interesting gadgets (look for my writeup of Sharp’s pitch for 8K television soon) and quality networking. And, sure, the chance to spend a few days in a pleasant location.

4/16/2018: How advertisers target you on Facebook, Yahoo Finance

I’ve been meaning to write a longer explanation of how exactly Facebook lets an advertiser target its users (you’ve read short versions of that here), and the confusion many members of Congress expressed in their questions to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave this topic a handy news peg. I also used this story to get some firsthand acquaintance with Facebook’s “Custom Audiences” feature, which lets you upload a customer list and have Facebook show ads to users it matches up with the data in your list.

4/18/2018: Tech News in Washington, D.C. with Rob Pegoraro, Tech Policy Institute

I was a guest on this think tank’s Two Think Minimum podcast, discussing the history of tech policy and tech lobbying in D.C. with TPI communications director Chris McGurn and TPI fellows Scott Wallsten and Sarah Oh.

4/18/2018: Facebook tracking at other sites, Al Jazeera

The Arabic news channel had me do a Skype interview from home about how Facebook tracks people–and in particular, those who don’t have Facebook accounts–at other sites. My takeaway: While Facebook tracking people who aren’t on Facebook can sound creepy, that’s what every ad network does.

Updated 4/23/2018 to add TPI’s podcast. I’m blaming jet lag on making me forget to include that yesterday.

I tried targeting you all with a Facebook ad. It didn’t work well.

Last Sunday, I finally saw something new on Facebook: an invitation to run an ad campaign on the social network and pay for the whole thing with a $30 coupon. Since other people’s money is one of my preferred payment methods–and since I’d been meaning to see what the Facebook ad mechanism looks like from the inside–I accepted the offer.

I couldn’t choose a post to promote, as the coupon was limited to the post I wrote here about money-losing prompts at ATMs and credit-card readers overseas that had become unexpectedly popular when shared automatically to my public page. But I could pick who would see the ad, as identified in a few different ways. In case you’ve wondered just what Facebook advertisers can know about you, here are the options I saw:

• Target people who like your page, people who like your page as well as those people’s friends, or people you choose through targeting. I picked the last, in the interest of science.

• Reach people at a region or at an address. The default was the District. I could have picked an address, but since I’m not promoting a business at a fixed location I didn’t see the point. But with this post’s travel-centric focus, I should have picked Dulles Airport–right?

• Choose interests (as expressed by people on Facebook in things like Likes). For this post, I selected “Air travel,” “Europe,” “credit cards,” and “personal finance.”

• Pick an age range and a gender.

• Pick a duration and a total budget for the ad campaign.

I could have gone deeper into some of these options, but since I was navigating this dialog on my phone during our daughter’s dance class, I didn’t have unlimited time. I submitted the ad, got an e-mail saying it was under review for compliance with Facebook’s ad standards, and got a second e-mail 16 minutes later saying the ad passed.

Three days later, Facebook sent me a summary. Their $30 had brought the Facebook share of my post here to another 2,516 people, of which 56 had clicked on the link and one had left a comment on my page.

This report also informed me that the ad’s audience was 95% male, which is both confusing and unsettling. Maybe I should have targeted only women, considering that my page’s audience already skews so heavily male? Age-wise, the ad found its biggest audience among the 25-34 demographic. I’m not clear about that either.

What I do know is that my WordAds ad revenue here doesn’t support spending $30 to reel in 56 views, so I doubt I’ll be running this experiment with my own money anytime soon.