Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

October 23, 2010 -

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

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Comments

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

The sensationalism in that article is amazing, but what else do you expect from the Daily Mail? I think the mention of Tyler Clementi was totally inappropriate, not least because it had nothing to do with Facebook.

If you visit a gay-oriented site by any other means than a Facebook ad, it would also technically identify you as gay. Or more, accurately, it would identify your internet connection as gay.

Also, to the concerns about the supposedly Orwellian nature of having your information accessible (never mind the fact that the sharing was voluntary), let's be realistic, what great evil are they actually going to do? It reminds me of an XKCD strip: xkcd.com/792/

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

"Or more, accurately, it would identify your internet connection as gay."

This is the funniest (context-removed) sentence I've read all day. =D

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

"never mind the fact that the sharing was voluntary"

The sharing with a friends list was voluntary.  The sharing with advertisers was not.

While I grant that anyone who expects anything they put on the Internet will truly be private is naive, Facebook and its advertisers nonetheless have an obligation to honor privacy settings.

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

Worst I can imagine is more soldiers being discharged form the military unde Don't ask Don't tell.

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

I'm wondering who this data is avaialble to, because the first thought in my head was that there will be a sharp rise i nthe rate that soldiers are discharged from the military.

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

Yeah I'm sure these advertisements are up to some sort of evil scheme paying for advertisements only to build up a database on everyone's sexual preferences and sell them later to the top bidders for a thousandth of the price they paid in advertising.  /sarcasm

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Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

No kidding. If you don't want facebook to know something, DONT TELL IT TO FACEBOOK. I can't stand these privacy freaks. "OMG, What is facebook doing with the information i give it!?!?!?!?!"

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

On one level, I agree.  I don't have a Facebook profile at all, because I don't like their behavior on privacy.

On the other, if you set your profile to private, it should be private.

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

Obvious hint for 2010: telling Facebook you're gay is coming out to the public on a global scale.

Re: Is Facebook Advertising Outing Gay Men?

Wait, you mean to tell me that if someone gives personal information to a website that is visited by millions upon millions of people all the time, it MIGHT actually get read by those people?

Oh.

My.

GOD!  Who'd have thunk it?

Seriously, this is the kind of stuff that makes me feel horrible about the human race.  If you want info private, keep it PRIVATE, as in, NOT ON THE INTERNET!  Putting personal info on the internet is just begging for trouble.

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