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Politics

Democrats say Facebook cost them days of critical, last-minute advertising

On Tuesday, Facebook said it fixed a "bug" blocking political ads. On Thursday, groups like Priorities USA were still waiting.

Facebook crack

Democrats say they've waited days for Facebook to fix a "bug" in its political ad system.

Image: Eynav Raphael and Protocol

On Tuesday night, Facebook emailed some advertisers to say that it had fixed a "bug" that was inadvertently blocking a broad swath of political ads from running in the final days leading up to the presidential election. But advertisers including the Biden campaign and Priorities USA, a major Democratic PAC, say the issue has taken days to resolve, costing candidates crucial time they'll never get back.

The bug stemmed from Facebook's decision to prohibit all new political and social issue ads before the election, a policy the company announced in early October. But when Facebook flipped the switch on Tuesday just after midnight, political groups and campaigns, including Biden's, reported having loads of previously approved ads unexpectedly shut off. On Tuesday night, according to a copy of the message reviewed by Protocol, Facebook informed advertisers that the "majority of incorrectly paused ads are now restored to the ad status they were in prior to being paused." But by Thursday morning, Priorities USA told Protocol that 500 ads were still being blocked. That included ads directing people to hotlines if they're having trouble voting in key swing states like North Carolina and Arizona.

"They're rapid response ads to combat voter suppression," said Danielle Butterfield, Priorities' paid media director. "It is a big deal, even if it's a small number of ads."

On Thursday afternoon, after Protocol reached out to Facebook, the company let Priorities know it would be unblocking the ads in question. "Campaigns from both parties have seen some of their ads unexpectedly paused," a Facebook spokesperson told Protocol. "We believe that we have addressed the majority of the problems, and we are working with advertisers to understand and address any outstanding concerns."

Prior to the ban on new ads, Facebook had given advertisers a series of guidelines to follow to ensure their ads would be approved in time for Facebook's election week deadline. According to Butterfield, Priorities was assured that advertisers would be able to change their targeting audiences without falling afoul of Facebook's filter on new ads. But according to Facebook, when Priorities changed its targets, that triggered Facebook's automated system to view those ads as new, and thereby blocked them. It then took Facebook nearly two days to resolve the issue.

"After two days of public and private complaints, Facebook has finally acknowledged that they were wrong in shutting off our ads, but their recalcitrance and failure to prepare cost us two of the final seven days of advertising," Priorities chairman Guy Cecil said in a statement. "Facebook has had years to improve their policies. This last-minute policy rollout and implementation was a choice."

Priorities wasn't the only one up in arms about persistent problems. Megan Clasen, a senior paid media adviser to the Biden campaign, tweeted Thursday that the campaign was also having issues with certain Facebook ads on Thursday. "To put the FB issues into context, Trump is running ads that say that Biden's tax plan will cause a 14% increase for middle class families and our ad that clarifies that he won't raise taxes on anyone making <$400K is currently rejected on certain key targeting tracks," Clasen wrote.

A Facebook spokesperson couldn't comment on the source of that particular issue but said that both parties have experienced ad issues in recent days.

By Thursday evening, Biden digital director Rob Flaherty laid into Facebook in a lengthy statement. "Facebook has, to this point, provided no clarity on the widespread issues that are plaguing all of our ad campaigns since the onset of their new ad restrictions," Flaherty wrote. "We find ourselves 5 days out from Election Day unable to trust that our ads will run properly, or if our opponents are being given an unfair, partisan advantage."

Facebook swiftly seized on the speculation with a statement of its own. "No ad was paused or rejected by a person, or because of any partisan consideration," the statement, published to Facebook's government and politics blog, read. "We have worked throughout this election to maintain a neutral playing field and that remains true in the face of these problems."

The screw up was, in other words, universal.

Updated October 30 at 10:09 am ET to include statements from Flaherty and Facebook.

App store laws, Microsoft AR and Square buys Tidal

Welcome to this weekend's Source Code podcast.

Cole Burston/Bloomberg

This week on the Source Code podcast: First, an update on Google's user-tracking change. Then, Ben Pimentel joins the show to discuss Square buying Tidal, and what it means for the fintech and music worlds. Later, Emily Birnbaum explains the bill moving through the Arizona legislature that has Google and Apple worried about the future of app stores. And finally, Janko Roettgers discusses Microsoft Mesh, the state of AR and VR headsets, and when we're all going to be doing meetings as holograms.

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David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

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A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

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Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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People

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At some point, WhatsApp was always going to have to make some money. Facebook paid $21.8 billion for the company in 2014, and since then, WhatsApp has grown to more than 2 billion users in more than 180 countries. And while, yes, Facebook's acquisition was in part simply a way to neutralize a competitor, it also knows how to monetize an audience.

The trick, though, would be figuring out how to do that without putting ads into the app. Nobody at WhatsApp ever wanted to do that, including co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who reportedly left Facebook after disagreements over ads. More recently, even Mark Zuckerberg has slowed the WhatsApp ad train, with The Information reporting that ads in WhatsApp likely won't come while the company's under so much regulatory scrutiny. So: $21.8 billion, no ads. What to do?

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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