Signal says its Instagram ads were banned for being too honest

Ads revealed what Facebook knew about its users.

Graham Cluley
@gcluley

Signal has its ad account banned after trying to show Instagram users the data Facebook has collected about them

Many folks are aware that Facebook’s main purpose is not to help you connect and chat with your friends, but instead to collect data about you.

And that data is the secret sauce which allows Facebook to provide a mechanism for delivering incredibly targeted advertising. Facebook isn’t really a social network, it’s an advertising company.

Yet despite many people are aware of this, most find it difficult to picture just how much Facebook knows about them.

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Enter the free end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal, which is well-regarded for its focus on privacy and security.

The team at Signal explained on its blog this week how it wanted to shed some light on Facebook methods.

Their simpler but oh-so-clever idea? To run targeted ads on the Instagram that directly show to the user *how* they were singled out for attention.

You got this ad because you’re a newlywed pilates instructor and you’re cartoon crazy.

This ad used your location to see you’re in La Jolla.

You’re into parenting blogs and thinking about LGBTQ adoption.

However, Signal’s plans were foiled, and it shared a screenshot showing that its ad account had been disabled – suggesting Facebook had taken the drastic step to prevent users from finding out how their data could be used to target them with ads:

“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. 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.”

Facebook came out fighting in response:

“This is a stunt by Signal, who never even tried to actually run these ads — and we didn’t shut down their ad account for trying to do so. If Signal had tried to run the ads, a couple of them would have been rejected because our advertising policies prohibit ads that assert that you have a specific medical condition or sexual orientation, as Signal should know. But of course, running the ads was never their goal — it was about getting publicity.”

Miaow!

Signal has disputed Facebook’s claims that the ads had never been submitted:

Facebook reportedly claims that it did temporarily disable Signal’s ad account in March, but that this was only done due to a payment problem.

To be honest, I’m not sure if it matters who is right or not about whether the ads were ever properly submitted to Instagram or not. What matters much more is that users of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram will now hopefully be more aware of just how much data has been collected about them.

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Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

One comment on “Signal says its Instagram ads were banned for being too honest”

  1. Mr Cluley, this felt like Facebook was sitting on the potty in a public restroom without locking the door and was outraged because someone walked in and saw everything.

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