Using Facebook Ads to Prank your Friends

Most tech savvy individuals are well aware of the vast amounts of data that social networking companies collect on us. Some take steps to avoid this data collection, others consider it a trade-off for using free tools to stay in touch with friends and family. Sometimes these ads can get a bit… creepy. Have you ever noticed an ad in the sidebar and thought to yourself, “I just searched for that…” It can be rather unsettling.

[Brian] was looking for ways to get back at his new roommate in retaliation of prank that was pulled at [Brian's] expense. [Brian] is no novice to Internet marketing. One day, he realized that he could create a Facebook ad group with only one member. Playing off of his roommate’s natural paranoia, he decided to serve up some of the most eerily targeted Facebook ads ever seen.

Creating extremely targeted ads without giving away the prank is trickier than you might think. The ad can’t be targeted solely for one person. It needs to be targeted to something that seems like a legitimate niche market, albeit a strange one. [Brian's] roommate happens to be a professional sword swallower (seriously). He also happens to ironically have a difficult time swallowing pills. naturally, [Brian] created an ad directed specifically towards that market.

Sword Swallowing Ad

The roommate thought this was a bit creepy, but mostly humorous. Slowly over the course of three weeks, [Brian] served more and more ads. Each one was more targeted than the last. He almost gave himself away at one point, but he managed to salvage the prank. Meanwhile, the roommate grew more and more paranoid. He started to think that perhaps Facebook was actually listening in on his phone calls. How else could they have received some of this information? As a happy coincidence, all of this happened at the same time as the [Edward Snowden] leaks. Not only was the roommate now concerned about Facebook’s snooping, but he also had the NSA to worry about.

Eventually, [Brian] turned himself in using another custom Facebook ad as the reveal. The jig was up and no permanent damage was done. You might be wondering how much it cost [Brian] for this elaborate prank? The total cost came to $1.70. Facebook has since changed their ad system so you can only target a minimum of 20 users. [Brian] provides an example of how you can get around the limitation, though. If you want to target a male friend, you can simply add 19 females to the group and then target only males within your group of 20 users. A pretty simple workaround

This prank brings up some interesting social questions. [Brian's] roommate seemed to actually start believing that Facebook might be listening in on his personal calls for the purposes of better ad targeting. How many other people would believe the same thing? Is it really that far-fetched to think that these companies might move in this direction? If we found out they were already doing this type of snooping, would it really come as a shock to us?

Barduino, Now With Facebook Integration

Bar

We’ve seen BarBots that will automagically pour you a drink, but how about one with RFID? How about one with Facebook integration, so your friends know how much of a lush you are? Wait. Facebook already tells them that. Huh.

[Andy] and [Daniel]‘s latest build follows on the heels of a lot of similar cocktail bots; an Arduino controls a few solenoid valves connected to a CO2 supply and a few bottles of liquor and mixers that allow drinks to be dispensed at the push of the button. Where this project gets interesting is its use of RFID and Facebook.

The user interface was coded for Windows 7, with an RFID tag (ostensibly issued to each guest) allowing a unique login that checks an SQL server to see what privileges the user has. The app pulls the user’s Facebook profile photo down and displays it in the corner of the screen, and with the server keeping track of how many drinks (and of what kind) they had, with the right permissions it should be possible to post that info to their wall. Because we all know what you did last night, even if you don’t.

Free yourself from social media with classical conditioning

pavlov

While [Robert] and [Dan] should be working on their dissertation, they found they actually spend a whole lot of time whiling away their days on Facebook and other social media sites. Taking inspiration from a Skinner box, they rigged up their computer to shock them every time they surfed on over to Facebook.

Their build uses the UI inspector in OS X and a Python script to activate an Arduino connected to one of those trick ‘shocking chewing gum’ pranks. The contacts for this shocker are attached to a keyboard wrist rest, providing a wonderful tingling sensation whenever the guys surf on over to Facebook.

Because shocks just aren’t extreme enough, [Robert] and [Dan] took their build one step further by invoking the wrath of Mechanical Turk users. They wrote a Python script to look at their UI inspector and submit a job to Mechanical Turk whenever they logged on to Facebook. The result is a random person being paid $1.40 to yell at [Robert] or [Dan] over the phone for wasting time on Facebook.

Video below, and be sure to like this post on Facebook.

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Hacking Facebook to remove the social value facade

We see [Ben Grosser's] point that all the metrics found on the Facebook user interface make the experience somewhat of a game to see if you can better your high score. He thinks this detracts from the mission of having social interactions that themselves have a value. So he set out to remove the ‘scores’ from all Facebook pages with a project he calls the Facebook Demetricator.

You can see two UI blocks above. The upper offering is what a normal user will see. The lower is the page seen through the lens of the Demetricator. [Ben's] feels it doesn’t matter how many people like something or share something, but only that you are genuinely interested in it. With the numbers removed you’re unlikely to follow the herd mentality of only clicking through to things that are liked by a huge number of people. He explains this himself in the clip after the break.

The Demetricator works much like the Reddit Enhancement Suite. It’s a browser add-on for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari that selectively strips out the metrics as the page renders.

Hackathon results in the Facebook book

[Jeremy Blum] and [Jason Wright] pose with their project at the end of a 24 hour hackathon. The Facebook headquarters in New York City held the event as part of their Summer of Hack program. As an homage to the hosts, the hacking duo decided to create a physical book and populate it with the virtual Facebook. And what do you call such a creation? The Face(book)^2.

The video after the break gives the best overview of the hardware, but here’s the gist of it: They started with the largest hardcover book they could find, hollowing out its pages to house their own hardware. When you open the book it calls back to a computer over an Xbee link with a request for data. The python script on the computer pulls the newest from a Facebook feed, sending it back to the book to be displayed. There is a graphic LCD and four character LCDs built in for this purpose. There’s also an accelerometer which is used for detecting page turns when the cover is jostled. The rest of the interactivity is provided by a few tactile switches mounted next to the smaller LCD screens for navigation and the ‘like’ feature.

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Poking machine

We may be showing our age here, but we have no idea what a ‘poke’ on Facebook actually means. Whether it’s the passive-aggressive manifestations of online stalkers or an extension of  the ‘like’ button, all we know is [Jasper] and [Bartholomäus] built a machine that translates virtual pokes into our analog world.

The “Poking Machine” as [Jasper] and [Bart] call it, syncs to your phone over a Bluetooth connection. The build is incredibly simple: just an ATtiny running Arduino for ATtiny, a Bluetooth controller (possibly this one from Sparkfun), and a servo. When the Facebook app on [Jasper] and [Bart]‘s phone receives notification of a ‘poke’, the servo is powered and gently taps the wearer on the arm.

One thing we really like about this project is the case made of several layers of laser-cut acrylic bolted together. This case offers a very clean look even if it is a bit ungainly. We suppose the guys could have used a simple vibration/pager motor for this build, but it wouldn’t exactly be a poking machine at that point. Check out the build video after the break.

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Hackaday in the social tangle

Like any other organization out there, we’re always trying to find new ways to reach our audience. Admittedly, we’re not the fastest when it comes to adopting a new social communication site. We’re working on it though, trying to be a bit more interactive … or just plain active.

So, if you’re looking for other ways to get your hacking fix, or see some interesting commentary, find us on facebook, twitter, our own forums, and now G+. We just signed up to G+ and our name is “Hackie Smith”. If you need an invite, email us at theofficialhackaday@gmail.com see below.   Sometimes there’s good discussion in those places that doesn’t end up here on the site.

You can also find several of us spattered across the web in sites like Reddit and Slashdot.

[Update: Our g+ page got shut down. Feel free to find any of the writers on g+. I'll give out invites, look for "Caleb Kraft" or 60mango@gmail]