We already know that some Facebook apps may have been giving user data to advertisers, but a report in the UK-based Daily Mail suggests that the world's largest social networking site might be outing its gay members through advertiser actions.
A team of researchers from Microsoft and Germany's Max Planck Institute ran a Facebook experiment by creating six fake profiles: two straight men, two straight women, a gay man, and a lesbian. The goal was to see if Facebook targeted ads based on sexuality. Besides the sexual orientation angle, the profiles were completely the same. The team monitored the accounts for a week.
Researchers discovered that different targeted advertising was being sent to users' accounts if they had described themselves as gay or straight. This discovery could mean that people elected to keep their sexuality a private matter on Facebook might be having that information discovered by advertisers without their knowledge or consent.
An excerpt from the research paper:
"The danger with such ads, unlike the gay bar ad where the target demographic is blatantly obvious, is that the user reading the ad text would have no idea that by clicking it he would reveal to the advertiser both his sexual-preference and a unique identiﬁer (cookie, IP address, or email address if he signs up on the advertiser's site)."
A Facebook spokesman said to the paper: "Our advertising guidelines prohibit advertisers from using user data collected from running an ad on Facebook, including information derived from targeting criteria. For example, we explicitly prohibit them from associating that targeting detail with the data collected from the user in forms they fill out, applications they make, or other interactions on their site. We also require that targeting of ads based on a user attribute be directly relevant to the offer in the advertisement. We take the privacy of our users very seriously and take immediate action when violations of these policies come to our attention. We don’t provide any personally identifiable information to advertisers and we recommend that people always exercise caution when filling out forms about themselves online."
The unnamed Facebook spokesman went on to say that the company has no evidence that "advertisers mentioned in this study sought to collect information about people using Facebook."
Source: Daily Mail