Signal Shows Data Collection Adverts Facebook Rejected

Signal has picked a fight with Facebook, after it revealed that the social networking giant had blocked a number of its Instagram adverts.

In a blog post, Signal explained it had a series of Instagram ads blocked, because the adverts attempted to show users how much data Instagram collects about them, and how that data is used to push targeted ads.

This is not the only fight Signal is engaged in. Last month Signal turned the tables on security specialist Cellebrite, and hacked its own hacking equipment and software.

Data collection

Signal said last month that it found and exploited a number of vulnerabilities with Cellebrite’s UFED software, which is used by law enforcement to break into Android or iOS phones and allegedly extract secure messages.

That move was sweet revenge Signal and its creator Moxie Marlinspike.

That is because in December last year, Cellebrite astonished the security industry when it claimed it had cracked the encryption of Signal.

But now Signal has returned its attention to Facebook’s data collection habits, when it generated a number of Instagram adverts to show users why they were seeing them.

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

Targetted adverts

“We created a multi-variant targeted ad designed to show you the personal data that Facebook collects about you and sells access to,” Signal wrote. “The ad would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses. Facebook was not into that idea.”

“Facebook is more than willing to sell visibility into people’s lives, unless it’s to tell people about how their data is being used,” Signal added. “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.”

It then provided a number of starkly transparent adverts that had been banned. The ads come with Signal branding and featured the user’s professional role, education, interests, hobbies, location, and relationship status, amongst other personal data points pruned from their interaction with the platform.

Signal

Signal’s adverts never made it to Instagram users’ feeds, and indeed it is reported that Signal’s ad account for Instagram was disabled.

WhatsApp rivalry

Signal it should be remembered is trying hard to pitch itself as a more secure alternative to WhatsApp.

Indeed Signal saw its installations jump in the new year, with 800,000 people installing it in just one day.

This caused the messaging service to hire more people to cope with demand.

This Signal surge came after a user exodus from WhatsApp, after it began notifying users around the world it would share data with its owner Facebook as a condition of its use going forward.

Such was the concern at the WhatsApp move at the time, that Signal began to be recommended by users such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

What WhatsApp had failed to properly explain at the time was that the terms update was largely aimed at giving users new options for interacting with businesses and providing more clarity about how it collects and uses data.

Essentially, WhatsApp’s data-sharing policy was not changing, but the company’s notification for many users was the first time they became aware of that policy, which has been in place since 2016.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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