According to online security researcher Christopher Soghoian’s blog Slight Paranoia, Facebook may be in hot water again. A paper by a Microsoft researcher and two fellows from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems entitled “Challenges in Measuring Online Advertising Systems” includes troubling findings about Facebook. Specifically, the paper implies that via a loophole, Facebook may be outing gay users to advertisers.
Facebook outs gay users who list sexual preference
Facebook outing gay users isn’t an exercise in mind reading, content scrubbing or candid photo analysis. The fact is that Facebook users have the option of listing the gender of the type of partner in which they’re interested. This is why Facebook was designed by Mark Zuckerberg in the first place. Considering that Facebook targets ads to users based upon demographic data, it would be no great stretch to also target users based upon sexual preference.
Personal privacy settings are supposed to prevent such a line from being crossed, but the study outlined in the recently published research paper found that ads targeted to a test profile for a fictional gay male user received ads that were radically different than a group of control profiles. Interestingly, ads to the fake lesbian user profile received ads that were not very different than the fabricated hetero female profile. The study authors explain the difference between gay and straight male ad targeting by pointing out that a gay bar wouldn’t want to place its ads on the profiles of straight men, whereas some straight women might be interested in such an ad, writes Gawker.
Click on an ad, flash your ID and preference information
Next comes the ongoing battle consumer protection groups have with Facebook. Clicking on an ad may expose a Facebook user’s IP address, e-mail address or browsing data to an advertiser. In the case of gay users, Facebook could indeed out gay users by revealing that information when an ad is clicked. But even if a Facebook user selects to hide sexual preference via privacy settings, clicking on an ad targets gay men, suggests Gawker, can open up that user to additional “gay-themed” advertising.