VIDEO: Awkward! Facebook VP stumped by BBC question

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Emily Maitlis interviews Facebook's Elliot SchrageElliot Schrage, Facebook’s VP Public Policy, was struck dumb by BBC reporter Emily Maitlis when she quizzed him about the ethics of “Sponsored Stories” on Facebook in a television documentary shown this weekend in the UK.

News reporter Maitlis raised the issue of Facebook’s ethics – if you click “Like” on a company or product page on Facebook (26 million people have done so for Starbucks, for example) then your name and photograph could unwittingly appear in online adverts for those products for all your friends to see.

Unfortunately, Facebook provides no way to opt out of appearing in these “adverts”.

Facebook Help Center says you can not opt out of appearing in sponsored stories

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It made for some uncomfortable viewing as Schrage struggled to explain the company’s position. You can watch an edited version of the segment in the video below.


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Emily Maitlis, BBC: If I press a “Like” button on a brand that could pop up as a Sponsored Story. I might not know about it, I certainly wouldn’t necessarily agree to it..

Elliot Schrage, Facebook: But when you press a “Like” button on a brand, or an ad or on a page you’re saying “I like this”.

Maitlis: But I’m not saying “I advertise this!”

Schrage: Well, it.. I suppose when you.. so let’s pause.

[awkward pause]

It’s an interesting..

[fx: tumbleweed]

Schrage: You’re asking a profound question. What’s advertising? When I press a “Like” button on an ad, I’m trying on the Facebook system, I am affirmatively communicating that I am associating myself with whatever I’m liking. And what that does is, it creates a story.

Maitlis: Well you can call it a story, many people would call it an advertisement, and Facebook is getting paid for those by the companies.

Schrage: Isn’t it a.. I I think it’s a.. it’s a ranking mechanism. I don’t know if I would call it an advertisement.

Depending on where you live in the world, you may be able to view “Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook” via BBC iPlayer.

Elliot SchrageThe hour long BBC documentary was certainly an entertaining look at Facebook, its origins and impact on the world, and was – in the most part – supportive of the social network.

Media coverage of the programme has tended to centre on Schrage’s discomfort, and – in the case of one newspaper – Emily Maitlis’s clothes.

Sadly, the much vaunted interview with Mark Zuckerberg himself was short and rather bland (he does, by the way, believe Sponsored Stories to be adverts) and Zuck was most notable for his absence from many sections (“this is where Mark sits, when he’s here”, “this is the house Mark used to live in”).

If you’re on Facebook, you should consider joining Sophos’s Facebook page, where over 150,000 people regularly share information on threats and discuss the latest security news. It will help you keep up-to-date on the latest privacy issues, scams and malware attacks. And yes, we get the irony..

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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