Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The encrypted messaging app Signal has exploded in popularity recently. (Photo: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The encrypted messaging app Signal has exploded in popularity recently. (Photo: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Signal Trolls Facebook by Showing How Data Is Collected for Targeted Advertising

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

Brett Wilkins

After a coalition of digital rights and other groups launched a campaign on Monday aimed at thwarting Facebook's planned privacy rollback on its popular WhatsApp messaging application, competitor Signal—which does not collect user data—on Tuesday began trolling the social media giant and its ubiquitous data collection in a tongue-in-cheek ad illustrating the intrusiveness of the practice. 

"The way most of the internet works today would be considered intolerable if translated into comprehensible real world analogs, but it endures because it is invisible."
—Jun Harada, Signal

Amid a viral messaging campaign that has included the revelation that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "leads by example" by using the encrypted app, Signal created a multi-variant targeted ad that Jun Harada, the company's head of growth and communication, said is "designed to show you the personal data that Facebook collects about you and sells access to."

 Alas, Facebook—which Signal says blocked the ad—"was not that into the idea," Harada wrote in a blog post, adding that the social media titan "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," Harada continued. "So, here are some examples of the targeted ads that you'll never see on Instagram. Yours would have been so you."

"Companies like Facebook aren't building technology for you, they're building technology for your data," wrote Harada. "They collect everything they can from FB, Instagram, and WhatsApp in order to sell visibility into people and their lives." 

"This isn't exactly a secret, but the full picture is hazy to most—dimly concealed within complex, opaquely rendered systems and fine print designed to be scrolled past," he added. "The way most of the internet works today would be considered intolerable if translated into comprehensible real world analogs, but it endures because it is invisible."

Signal's popularity was already soaring before the WhatsApp privacy rollback. According to Business of Apps, the number of Signal users skyrocketed from around half a million at the end of 2019 to about 40 million this January. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Trump Says Mar-a-Lago 'Under Siege, Raided, and Occupied' by FBI

"The accountability our democracy desperately needs for its survival might, just might, be a real possibility," said the head of a watchdog group.

Common Dreams staff ·


New Ad Against Herschel Walker Features Ex-Wife's Domestic Violence Accusations

A leader at the anti-Trump group behind the advertisement targeting the U.S. Senate candidate said that "our campaign is built around the voices of Georgia Republicans who know that he's unfit for office."

Jessica Corbett ·


Michigan AG Urges Probe of Alleged GOP-Led Effort to Break Into Voting Machines

"We must denounce the Big Lie and those who refuse to uphold the will of the people in our elections," said one democracy defender.

Brett Wilkins ·


Hopes Rise for Return to Iran Nuclear Deal Destroyed by Trump

"We stand five minutes or five seconds from the finish line," said one negotiator, who added that "three or four issues" that are "sensitive for Iranians and Americans" remain to be resolved.

Brett Wilkins ·


Sinema Received Over $500K From Private Equity Before Shielding Industry From Tax Hikes

"Remember the days when taking half a million bucks from an industry, and then passing legislation that only benefits that industry, while passing the costs onto everyone else, would be called corruption?" asked one critic. "Today it's just lobbying as usual."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo