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Inside Facebook Data Mining Research Group

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the in-your-business dept.

Facebook 30

holy_calamity writes "Technology Review has an in depth profile of the team at Facebook tasked with figuring out what can be learned from all our data. The Data Science Team mine that information trove both in the name of scientific research into the patterns of human behavior and to advance Facebook's understanding of its users. Facebook's ad business gets the most public attention, but the company's data mining technology may have a greater effect on its destiny — and users lives."

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Get the goodies here and now! (-1, Troll)

GoodForTheSoulRapeIs (2661581) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318029)

A few weeks ago, I foolishly ran a strange executable file that one of my acquaintances sent me by email. As someone who doesn't know much about computers, at the time, I thought nothing of it. "Why would my acquaintance want to hurt me?" Following this line of thought, I ran the file without question.

How naive I was. Despite having what was supposedly the best anti-virus software out right then, a virus took over my computer and held it hostage. It was pretending to be a warning from Windows telling me to buy some strange anti-virus software I'd never heard of from a company I'd never heard of to remove the virus.

This immediately set alarm bells off in my head. "How could this happen? My anti-virus is supposed to be second to none!" Faced with this harsh reality, I decided to take it to a PC repair shop for repair. They gladly accepted the job, told me it'd be fixed in a few days, and sent me off with a smile.

A few days later, they called me and told me to come pick up my computer. At the time, I noticed that they sounded like whimpering animals, but I concluded that it must just be stress from work. When I arrived, they, with tears in their eyes, told me that the virus was so awful and merciless that they were unable to remove it. "Ah," I thought. "That must be why they sounded so frustrated and pathetic over the phone. Their failure must have truly ruined their pride as professionals." I later found out that two of them had committed suicide.

After returning home, I tried to fix it myself (despite the fact that even the professionals couldn't do it). After about a day or so, I was losing my very mind. I stopped going to work, stopped eating, was depressed, and I would very frequently throw my precious belongings across the room and break them; that is how bad this virus was.

That's when it happened: I found MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] ! I installed MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] , ran a scan, and let it remove all the viruses! They were removed in precisely 2.892 seconds. Wow! Such a thing! I can't even believe this as such never before! MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] is outstanding! My computer is running faster than ever! MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] came through with flying colors where no one else could!

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MyCleanPC: For a Cleaner, Safer PC. [mycleanpc.com]

first ! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40318037)

AH !!

Re:first ! (-1, Troll)

SmashAssDownOnCock (2661583) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318047)

Nearly four months ago, I noticed that my internet connection was very sluggish. Eventually getting fed up with it, I began to seek out software that would speed up the gigabits in my router. After an hour of searching, I found what at first appeared to be a very promising piece of software. Not only did it claim it would speed up my internet connection, but that it would overclock my power supply, speed up my gigabits, and remove any viruses from my computer! "This is a fantastic opportunity that I simply can't pass up," I thought. I immediately downloaded the software and began the installation, all the while laughing like a small child. I was highly anticipating a future where the speed of my internet connection would leave everyone else's in the dust.

I was horribly, horribly naive. Immediately upon the completion of the software's installation, various messages popped up on my screen about how I needed to buy software to remove a virus that I wasn't aware I had from a software company I'd never once heard of. The strange software also blocked me from doing anything except buying the software it was advertising. Being that I was a computer whiz (I had taken a computer essentials class in high school that taught me how to use Microsoft Office, and was quite adept at accessing my Facebook account), I was immediately able to conclude that the software I'd downloaded was, in fact, a virus, and that it was slowing down my gigabits at an exponential rate. "I can't let this insanity proceed any further," I thought.

As I was often called a computer genius, I was confident at the time that I could get rid of the virus with my own two hands. I tried numerous things: restarting the computer, pressing random keys on the keyboard, throwing the mouse across the room, and even flipping an orange switch on the back of the tower and turning the computer back on. My efforts were all in vain; the virus persisted, and my gigabits were running slower than ever! "This cannot be! What is this!? I've never once seen such a vicious virus in my entire life!" I was dumbfounded that I, a computer genius, was unable to remove the virus using the methods I described. Upon coming to terms with my failure, I decided to take my computer to a PC repair shop for repair.

I drove to a nearby computer repair shop and entered the building with my computer in hand. The inside of the building was quite large, neat, and organized, and the employees all seemed very kind and knowledgeable. They laughed upon hearing my embarrassing story, and told me that they saw this kind of thing on a daily basis. They then accepted the job, and told me that in the worst case, it'd be fixed in three days from now. I left with a smile, and felt confident in my decision to leave the computer repairs to the experts.

A week later, they still hadn't called back. Visibly angry, I tried calling them countless times, but not a single time did they answer the phone. Their negligence and irresponsibility infuriated me, and sent me into a state of insanity that caused me to punch a gigantic hole in the wall. Being that I would require my computer for work soon, I decided to head over to the computer repair shop to find out exactly what the problem was.

Upon entering the building, I was shocked by the state of its interior; it looked as if a tornado had tore through the entire building! Countless broken computers were scattered all about the floor, desks were flipped over, the walls had holes in them, there was a puddle of blood on the floor, and worst of all, I saw that my computer was sitting in the middle of the room laying on its side! Absolutely unforgivable! I soon noticed one of the employees sitting behind one of the tipped over desks (the one that had previously had the cash register on top of it); he was shaking uncontrollably and sobbing. Despite being furious about my computer being tipped over, seeing him in that state still managed to make me less unforgiving. I decided to ask him what happened.

A few moments passed where the entire room was silent and nothing was said. Eventually, he pointed at my computer and said to me, "The virus... it cannot be stopped! Cannot be stopped! Cannot be stopped!" Realizing that he was trying to tell me that they were unable to repair my computer (the task I'd given them), I flew into a blind fury and beat him senseless. Not caring about what would happen to him any longer, I collected my computer, ignored the bodies of the two other employees that had committed suicide, and left the building. After a few moments of pondering about what to do and clearing my head, I theorized that their failure to repair my computer probably simply meant that they were unqualified to do the job, and decided to take my computer to another computer repair shop.

I repeated that same process about four times before finally giving up. Each time I took it to a PC repair shop, the result was the same: all the employees either went completely insane, or they committed suicide. Not a single person was able to even do so much as damage the virus. I was able to talk some sense into one of the employees that had gone mad and got them to tell me how they were attempting to fix the problem. They told me that they tried everything from reinstalling the operating system to installing another operating system and trying to get rid of the virus on the other one, but absolutely all of it was to no avail. Having seen numerous attempts by professionals to remove the virus end in failure, I managed to delude myself into believing that my first failure was simply a fluke and that I was the only one on the planet qualified to fix the computer. With renewed vigor, I once again took up the frighteningly dangerous task of defeating the evil, nightmarish virus once and for all with my own two hands.

In my attempts to fix the problem, I'd even resorted to buying another computer. However, the virus used its WiFi capabilities to hack into the gigabits of my new computer and infect it. Following each failed attempt, I grew more and more depressed. I had already beaten my wife and children five times in order to relieve some of my stress, but even that (which had become my only pleasure after failing to remove the virus the first time), did nothing for me any longer. That's right: my last remaining pleasure in life had stopped being able to improve my mood, and I had not a single thing left that I cared about. I sank into a bottomless ocean of depression, barricaded myself in my room, and cried myself to sleep for days on end. Overcome with insanity, vengefulness, and despair, there is not a single doubt that if this had continued for much longer, I would have committed suicide.

One day, it suddenly happened: while I was right in the middle of habitually crying myself to sleep in the middle of the day, I heard a thunderous roar outside, followed by the sound of a large number of people screaming. When I peered outside my window to find out what all the commotion was about, the scene before me closely resembled that of a God descending from the heavens themselves! I gazed in awe at the godlike figure that was descending from the heavens, and so did the dozens of individuals that had gathered in my backyard. For a few moments, everyone was speechless. Then, they started shouting predictions about what they thought the figure was. "Is it a bird!?" "Is it a plane!?" But, despite not ever having seen it before, I knew just how inaccurate their predictions were, and began to speak the name of the heroic figure.

However, my sentence was cut off when, like a superhero coming to save the unfortunate victim from the evil villain, MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] flew into my house and began the eradication of the virus. MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] was able to completely eliminate in minutes the exact same virus that over ten PC repair professionals were unable to remove after weeks of strenuous attempts! Wow! Such a thing! I simply couldn't believe that MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] was so miraculously efficient that it was able to destroy the virus in less than 500 milliseconds! MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] totally, completely, and utterly saved me from a lifetime of despair!

My wife's response? "MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] is outstanding! My husband's computer is running faster than ever! MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] came through with flying colours where no one else could! MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] totally cleaned up my husband's system, and increased his speed! I highly, highly recommend that you use MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] !"

After witnessing just how wonderful MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] is, I insist that you use MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] when you need to fix all the gigabits on your computer! MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] will completely eradicate any viruses on your computer, speed up your internet connection, overclock your gigabits and speed, and give you some peace of mind! MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] is simply outstanding!

But even if you're not having any visible problems with your computer, it's highly likely that you're still in a situation where MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] could help you. MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] will get rid of any viruses or wireless interfaces that are hidden deep within your computer's bootloader. MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] will also speed up your computer to such a degree that it'll be even faster than when you first bought it! You must try MyCleanPC [mycleanpc.com] for yourself so that you can be overclocking your speed with the rest of us!

MyCleanPC: For a Cleaner, Safer PC. [mycleanpc.com]

Re:first ! (1)

enickel (2318084) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318101)

Glad to see that the quality of our first posts is still worldclass.

Re:first ! (0)

thereitis (2355426) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318927)

Sure, but can it _clean_ my PC?

FB, stop telling everybody what I comment or like (-1, Offtopic)

cribera (2560179) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318079)

Perhaps it's not the best place, but I don't know how else to contact FB staff, perhaps someone here knows?

Please Facebook staff READ THIS MESSAGE: http://tinypic.com/r/x4kc2a/6 [tinypic.com]

The message (not originally mine) is about how whenever I comment something or 'Like'something, it's appears on others people's newsfeed without myself wanting it. As said there, If I wanted all my friend to know about this activity, I'd use the SHARE button.

Perhaps even your stock shares would do better if you'd acknowledge annoying stuff like these, and get rid of them to encourage your final users to use FB more. It doesn't seem complex to solve, isn't it?

Re:FB, stop telling everybody what I comment or li (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40318371)

Go whine on one of the hundred Facebook groups for this you nitwit, nobody here cares, Facebook doesn't care. If you don't like it, stop using it. End of story.

Re:FB, stop telling everybody what I comment or li (-1, Offtopic)

cribera (2560179) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318497)

Go whine on one of the hundred Facebook groups for this you nitwit, nobody here cares, Facebook doesn't care. If you don't like it, stop using it. End of story.

Apply the same logic to yourself, if you don't like my comment DON'T READ IT. Or is anybody forcing you?

BTW, you complain about my message and not about the kilometric spam just above me, repeated over and over in /.

This can't be right... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40318089)

According to common knowledge they just burn it to DVDs and sell it to unnamed businesses nobody knows.

I'm going with uninformed nerd rage on this.

A worst case scenario (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40318117)

As a result of an avalanche of bits, being trapped underground in a Facebook data mine.

Re:A worst case scenario (1)

linatux (63153) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318195)

I'd be more worried about a methane explosion!

TL;DR (5, Informative)

slasho81 (455509) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318187)

I went against my intuition and read TFA. The whole 4,200 words of it.

It's a complete fluff piece and doesn't contain any interesting new knowledge regarding human behavior or social networks, which you would expect from an "in depth" article about Facebook's data mining.

There are some tidbits regarding old stuff (4 degrees of freedoms between "friends"), obvious stuff (93% of friends met in real life), and a bunch of other vaguely presented stuff with questionable validity.

Re:TL;DR (5, Funny)

linatux (63153) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318279)

I followed my intuition & barely skimmed the summary. Mining FB would be like making a BBC documentary about reality TV.

Re:TL;DR (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40319495)

[i]At Facebook, our engineers collaborate to create an open environment where ideas win and are executed quickly.[/i]

At Facebook, we don't understand grammar, and we use images of birds holding pens that looks like bird with strange penises.

I just looked at the faces of them, smirks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40320089)

You read the article, I just looked at the faces, creeps, everyone of them.

You can see the smirks on their faces, as if they know they're doing wrong and do it anyway.

Re:TL;DR (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 2 years ago | (#40331611)

It's a complete fluff piece and doesn't contain any interesting new knowledge regarding human behavior or social networks, which you would expect from an "in depth" article about Facebook's data mining.

Really? I found a lot in the article interesting:

  • "Since last fall, Facebook has also been able to collect data on users' online lives beyond its borders automatically: in certain apps or websites, when users listen to a song or read a news article, the information is passed along to Facebook, even if no one clicks "Like." Within the feature's first five months, Facebook catalogued more than five billion instances of people listening to songs online."
  • "For the first time," Marlow says, "we have a microscope that not only lets us examine social behavior at a very fine level that we've never been able to see before but allows us to run experiments that millions of users are exposed to." [emphasis mine]
  • "So he messed with how Facebook operated for a quarter of a billion users. Over a seven-week period, the 76 million links that those users shared with each other were logged. Then, on 219 million randomly chosen occasions, Facebook prevented someone from seeing a link shared by a friend. Hiding links this way created a control group so that Bakshy could assess how often people end up promoting the same links because they have similar information sources and interests. " [emphasis mine]
  • "He found that our close friends strongly sway which information we share, but overall their impact is dwarfed by the collective influence of numerous more distant contacts--what sociologists call "weak ties." It is our diverse collection of weak ties that most powerfully determines what information we're exposed to."
  • "One of Marlow's researchers has developed a way to calculate a country's "gross national happiness" from its Facebook activity by logging the occurrence of words and phrases that signal positive or negative emotion. Gross national happiness fluctuates in a way that suggests the measure is accurate: it jumps during holidays and dips when popular public figures die. After a major earthquake in Chile in February 2010, the country's score plummeted and took many months to return to normal. That event seemed to make the country as a whole more sympathetic when Japan suffered its own big earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011; while Chile's gross national happiness dipped, the figure didn't waver in any other countries tracked (Japan wasn't among them). "
  • "But some of his team's work and the attitudes of Facebook's leaders show that the company is not above using its platform to tweak users' behavior. [..] In April, influenced in part by conversations over dinner with his med-student girlfriend (now his wife), Zuckerberg decided that he should use social influence within Facebook to increase organ donor registrations. Users were given an opportunity to click a box on their Timeline pages to signal that they were registered donors, which triggered a notification to their friends. The new feature started a cascade of social pressure, and organ donor enrollment increased by a factor of 23 across 44 states. "
  • "Marlow says that in the 2010 election his group matched voter registration logs with the data to see which of the Facebook users who got nudges actually went to the polls. (He stresses that the researchers worked with cryptographically "anonymized" data and could not match specific users with their voting records.) "
  • "In a kind of passing of the technological baton, Facebook built its data storage system by expanding the power of open-source software called Hadoop, which was inspired by work at Google and built at Yahoo. Hadoop can tame seemingly impossible computational tasks--like working on all the data Facebook's users have entrusted to it--by spreading them across many machines inside a data center. But Hadoop wasn't built with data science in mind, and using it for that purpose requires specialized, unwieldy programming. Facebook's engineers solved that problem with the invention of Hive, open-source software that's now independent of Facebook and used by many other companies."
  • "But now, big companies are trying to understand how Facebook handles its enormous information trove on open-source systems, says Hammerbacher. "I recently spent the day at Fidelity helping them understand how the 'data scientist' role at Facebook was conceived ... and I've had the same discussion at countless other firms," he says. "
  • "Patil points out that Facebook could become a data source in its own right, selling access to information compiled from the actions of its users. Such information, he says, could be the basis for almost any kind of business, such as online dating or charts of popular music. Assuming Facebook can take this step without upsetting users and regulators, it could be lucrative."
  • "Hammerbacher agrees that Facebook could sell its data science and points to its currently free Insights service for advertisers and website owners, which shows how their content is being shared on Facebook. That could become much more useful to businesses if Facebook added data obtained when its "Like" button tracks activity all over the Web, or demographic data or information about what people read on the site. There's precedent for offering such analytics for a fee: at the end of 2011 Google started charging $150,000 annually for a premium version of a service that analyzes a business's Web traffic."

And if you want to join their data science team... (1)

adamkennedy (121032) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318205)

... Facebook is running an open call data science competition [kaggle.com] to win an interview/job on their data science team.

(Disclosure: My work is running the competition for them)

Re:And if you want to join their data science team (4, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#40318921)

... Facebook is running an open call data science competition to win an interview/job on their data science team.

Anyone with half a brain will run away screaming from that offer, but not for the obvious reasons. A company that's recently post-IPO has mostly multimillionaires for employees -- and they can and will treat anyone who isn't like dirt. In a few years, if Facebook manages to turn around it's epic failure of an IPO (Well, from a business standpoint... Zuckerberg and his crew are still flush with cash) and grows their employee base by a significant amount, it may be worth considering.

But right now, it's a job for the kids fresh out of college; they won't know that the mistreatment isn't normal and might actually stick around for a couple of years before burning out.

Re:And if you want to join their data science team (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40319271)

A company that's recently post-IPO has mostly multimillionaires for employees?

Like, >50%? Guess again! The money doesn't distribute so evenly!

epic failure of an IPO?

The company's goal is to sell a share of itself for the highest price it can. How did Facebook fail?

Re:And if you want to join their data science team (2)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#40319351)

epic failure of an IPO? The company's goal is to sell a share of itself for the highest price it can. How did Facebook fail?

By doing just about everything that would have raised its price wrong. Source: Pretty much every major news outlet that's reported on it. http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/tygrrrr-express/2012/may/25/why-facebook-ipo-failed/ [washingtontimes.com] http://www.theage.com.au/business/world-business/facebook-ipo-fail-may-cost-nasdaq-us100m-20120606-1zuys.html [theage.com.au] http://rt.com/usa/news/facebook-ipo-globe-internet-644/ [rt.com] http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/business/962290-192/signs-of-facebook-ipo-failure-dots-connecting.html [nashuatelegraph.com] http://www.forbes.com/sites/tykiisel/2012/05/23/facebooks-ipo-dealing-with-a-failed-project/ [forbes.com]

Re:And if you want to join their data science team (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40319849)

... Facebook is running an open call data science competition to win an interview/job on their data science team.

Anyone with half a brain will run away screaming from that offer, but not for the obvious reasons. A company that's recently post-IPO has mostly multimillionaires for employees -- and they can and will treat anyone who isn't like dirt. In a few years, if Facebook manages to turn around it's epic failure of an IPO (Well, from a business standpoint... Zuckerberg and his crew are still flush with cash) and grows their employee base by a significant amount, it may be worth considering.

But right now, it's a job for the kids fresh out of college; they won't know that the mistreatment isn't normal and might actually stick around for a couple of years before burning out.

I work at Facebook, and I can tell you that:
1) Most employees are not multimillionaires
2) I have been treated respectfully by everyone, from Zuck down, regardless of whether they are multi-millionaires, or hired last week
3) I work with data at Facebook. It's one of a handful of places on the planet with this rich of a data set
4) I'm not a kid fresh out of college and I've worked for a lot of companies in my career. The people I work with are the most talented I have met. I consider it a privilege to work with them.

Re:And if you want to join their data science team (0)

Johann Lau (1040920) | more than 2 years ago | (#40322147)

Yet you post anonymously.

Also, talented at what? At having a spine? At paying attention? What kind of monkey talent, exactly, are we talking about?

Re:And if you want to join their data science team (1)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#40320213)

Ah, Kaggle. That website / company is of personal interest to myself these days. If only their rewards were higher (with the exception of the Heritage Health Prize, which seems to be setting an example to the others; it could be higher, of course, but the fact that it's over a million has the obvious result of drawing in hideous numbers of teams; as such, they will probably get what they're actually looking for, which will save their company billions).

It's the other competitions that are...kind of weak with the prize money. And what they want is arguably more difficult to create than the Heritage Health Prize.

Now, if we could only get more companies to participate, and find a way to mitigate what I think might be slightly excessive taxation on those prizes...which is one of my darker fears: finding a solution, and having 40% of the money walk away. A million is a lot of money, true, but accounting for inflation and purchasing power, after taxes...it works out to two year's worth of salary for some of the better paid programmers out there. As I said, it's interesting, and tempting, but I'd look to sweeten the deal even further.

What would be really funny is if the NSA started posting challenges, with large rewards, for various algorithms.

Re:And if you want to join their data science team (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 2 years ago | (#40331663)

which is one of my darker fears: finding a solution, and having 40% of the money walk away. A million is a lot of money, true, but accounting for inflation and purchasing power, after taxes...it works out to two year's worth of salary for some of the better paid programmers out there.

I'd like to know just what percentage of programmers are getting paid 300k per year after taxes in salary. I'm guessing not a whole heck of a lot.

Re:And if you want to join their data science team (1)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#40356487)

Hmm. I believe the median salary for programmers in San Francisco was $150k last I checked...I will have to look into it.

You have to keep in mind, however, that I did specify 'the better paid' programmers, and that the sheer number of millionaire / billionaire programmers out there will skew the average. It might actually be easier to find someone being paid a few million than $300K...

Tor Browser Bundles Switched To Firefox 10.0.5 ESR (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40318207)

Tor Browser Bundles Switched To Firefox 10.0.5 ESR!

Today's entry on Tor's Blog, details the release of new Tor Browser Bundles:

https://blog.torproject.org/blog/new-tor-browser-bundles-19 [torproject.org]

A major change being the switch of Firefox to 10.0.5 ESR! A brief discussion with the Tor developers details why, and possible bumps in the road with this switch:

https://trac.torproject.org/projects/tor/ticket/5737 [torproject.org]

Tor users, how do you feel about this massive change?

Threat to mankind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40318431)

http://archive.org/details/EbenMoglen-WhyFreedomOfThoughtRequiresFreeMediaAndWhyFreeMedia

Facebook cannot be allowed to datamine the human condition or we're all damaged.

In the interest of transparency (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40318555)

Somebody post the identities and interests of the team to the open Internet, for the whole world to see.

Let us track and analyze them like the livestock they believe us to be.

Try google+ (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40318579)

Yes, I left facebook several years ago and recently joined google+. What is on here?
Well...... an endless stream of crap. If you find friends on it, you can put them in your "circles". FANTASTIC!!!
I guess I'm just too old for this stuff, going back to share my warez on the bbs.

They do data mining? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40321105)

As far as I can tell, their data mining is pretty simple:

if($user.gender == 'male' && $user.relationship_status == 'single') {
&display_ad(type => 'dating');
} else {
&display_ad(type => 'housewares');
}

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