This is some seriously dodgy software

Screengrab Whaleoil

Facebook once again allows personal manipulation and misuse of data and their platform. Zuckerberg is really such a delightful person, just the sort you would want to bring home to Mum for a meal. quote.

Elliot Shefler says his one service can be used to manipulate your partner – or any person you target – into initiating sex, quitting smoking, leaving their job, giving up riding a motorcyle or turning vegan, among other goals.

If you fork over US$29 ($43), his company, The Spinner, will send you an innocuous-looking link to a genuine article – but one that also includes a cookie, or tracking code.

The idea is that you email the link to your husband or wife – or whoever you target – then after they click on it, the cookie is installed on their web browser, unbeknown to them.

Shefler says The Spinner can then infiltrate the target’s Facebook feed, seeding it with 180 articles over a three-month period.

They will all be real articles from mainstream publications, but all will be on your chosen theme.

For example, your wife might see articles in her Facebook feed from Woman’s Day and Women’s Health, with headlines like “3 Reasons Why YOU Should Initiate Sex With Your Husband.” (If you sign up, please, no letters to the Herald after you get found out and divorced).

Shefler says The Spinner’s software will also place mock ads on websites visited by the target. He forwards one for coffee cups with slogans including “Get back with your ex”.

The idea is that the blitz of article headlines and ads starts to have a subliminal effect.

Let the brainwashing begin,” is how The Spinner’s marketing material puts it.

Shefler says he has a team of psychologists who pick the material, though he refuses to name them.

There are various campaigns available on The Spinner, including one to persuade your parents to buy you a dog.

But that’s not where its money comes from.

“I think because men are most commonly our users. And they all just want the Initiate Sex package,” says Shefler. “It’s a case of supply and demand.”

Since it was founded in April last year, The Spinner has gained more than 146,000 paying customers, Shefler says, amid coverage everywhere from Rolling Stone to the Financial Times.

On one level, The Spinner is a jape, rolled out as a colour story by various publications. But on another level it’s a lot more sinister: apparently yet another example of Facebook’s platform being abused to invade privacy and manipulate thought.

Shefler tells the Herald he has sought advice, and that his company’s service is legal everywhere outside the EU.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards is still to weigh in with his verdict, but a member of his staff called services like The Spinner “insidious” and forwarded the Herald a link to this explainer on how to stop targeted or “stalker” ads on Facebook, Google and general websites.

Now is also a good time to review your “interests” and other personalisation and privacy settings in Facebook – which are often used by mainstream brands for targeting. Here’s how.

Facebook Australia-New Zealand was offered the opportunity to comment for this article but did not take it up.[…]

“These assurances seem to be followed by revelations which indicate Facebook is doubling down on the way it uses personal information rather than improving its privacy practices.

A newspaper end quote.
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