Facebook blocks the Spinner’s ‘brainwashing’ tech

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Facebook has banned the behaviour-changing service from its platforms

Facebook has handed out a cease and desist notice to an Israeli firm that declares to be able to change people’s behaviour unknowingly.

The Spinner charges a rate to “subconsciously influence” recipients by exposing them to online posts “camouflaged as editorial content”.

But Facebook has complained to the start-up using its services to accomplish this.

And the tech giant has banned the firm and its chief from using Instagram or Facebook for any reason.

In reply, the Spinner’s chief operating officer and co-founder Elliot Shefler said that it would carry on to sell targeted online campaigns and rejected to rule out using Facebook in the future.

Campaigns from Spinner include encouraging a boyfriend to propose, nudging parents to purchase a dog and quit smoking/drinking

The Spinner makes daring claims about what it can achieve

Policy infringement

The Spinner asserts to be able to “brainwash” loved ones to:

  • lose weight
  • quit smoking
  • initiate sex with their partners more often
  • consider having breast implants
  • propose marriage

To do this, it displays dozens of articles about the issue to targets for months through the internet, adding in their social media feeds.

Facebook’s legal firm Perkins Coie has dispatched a letter to Mr Shefler to protest.

“It seems that the Spinner uses fake Facebook Pages and fake accounts to ‘strategically bombard’ Facebook users with advertisements,” it says.

“These activities infringe Facebook’s terms and advertising policies. Facebook orders that you stop this activity instantly.”

The Spinner makes daring claims about what it can achieve

The Californian firm claimed that it had already deleted the Spinner’s accounts.

“We have no acceptance for bad actors that try to evade our policies and make bad experiences for users on Facebook,” a spokesman said.

Mr Shefler made clear that the Spinner had bought advertising slots on Facebook for over a year, and each of its advertisements had been reviewed and approved.

Facebook uses both automated software and humans to check ads submitted through its self-service tools.

However, Mr Shefler added: “The Spinner’s ability to distribute content to targeted users is not dependent on any particular social account or page. It’s a concept.”

Does it work?

The Spinner works by sending a link to the target’s phone. When opened, it puts a small file known as a cookie on the target’s device, which lets them to be identified and exposed to particularly created articles and other media.

The idea was initially pitched to the public via the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, but only raised £192 of its £47,800 mark. In spite of this, the firm decided to press on.

But some have asked whether its techniques work.

Rich Leigh, who is in the public relations sector, put it to the scrutiny.

He bought a campaign that supposedly stimulated women to want more sex. But rather than sending the link to a loved one or friend, he sent the campaign to himself.

After few months, his Facebook feed started to show sponsored posts presenting articles with headlines such as 9 Ways To Initiate Sex.

However, he says he only saw only four or five examples. He also told seeing ads from a promotion he did not purchase, urging him to stop riding motorcycles.

Mr Shefler maintains the service is legal.

“It is not a technical hack,” he said.

“We employ regular tools. The hack is in the pricing. We purchase the media for $5 per 1,000 impressions. We offer the media for $49 per 180 impressions. That’s a great margin,” he said.

Mr Shefler did not mention any customers who had earlier bought campaigns.

One criticiser said that while many people might find the Spinner’s tactics offensive, the tracking techniques usually used by other advertising companies were debatably worse.

“By getting annoyed at obvious stuff that the Spinner does, we tend to ignore its true importance,” said Doc Searls, author of The Intention Economy.

“It represents the methods and purposes of the whole online surveillance economy and the involvement of most publishers in that same economy.”

 

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