Facebook may be inadvertently revealing its users' sexual preference, concluded researchers from Microsoft and the Max Planck Institute who studied how advertisers target Facebook members. After setting up six test Facebook accounts, including one for a gay man, the researchers found that different ads were served to the gay user — even though his "interested in" dating preference was hidden. Worse, only half of the ads were clearly targeting gays. If the targeted gay user clicked on a seemingly neutral ad for, say, a nursing school, he would have, unwittingly, "published" his sexual preference. Does Facebook have another privacy scandal on its hands?
Outing people is serious business: This "threat is real," says Jim Edwards at CBS MoneyWatch, both for closeted gay users and those misidentified as gay by Facebook's "comically" inept gaydar. Targeting gays isn't always a benign way to sell a product — businesses could, for example, refuse to hire or serve someone identified as gay via Facebook. So congratulations, Facebook, you've "created a new way to make life difficult for homosexuals."
"Facebook's advertisers think you're gay..."
Take the study with a few grains of salt: "It's worth noting," says Doug Gross at CNN, that the dangers of "outing" someone are pretty "hypothetical and based on a very small sample size." Also, targeting ads to users based on assumed sexual preference would violate Facebook's rules. Besides, Max Planck researchers, you know what else is "illegal under Facebook rules"? "Creating fake accounts."
"Are Facebook ads outing gay users?"
There's a simple solution: I'm inclined to agree that while "this definitely has all the lip-smacking qualities of a scandal," says Melissa Bell in The Washington Post, it is "another molehill rather than a mountain." Want to protect yourself? "Don't click on the ads if you don't want the advertising companies to see where you came from."
"Facebook targeting gays with advertising?"