A new report claims that Facebook targets users it thinks are gay with specic ads which coud result in them being inadvertently outed to advertisers.
Researchers created six fake Facebook profiles and found that the pages in which the fake users said that he or she was interested in a member of the same sex were targeted with different advertising compared to the “users” interested in the opposite sex.
About half of the ads displayed to the gay male profiles were ads that promoted gay nightclubs or specifically mentioned sexual orientation.
The researchers also “alarmingly” found that there were a number of ads displayed that seemed to be targeted only to gay or lesbian users (e.g. for a nursing degree in a medical college in Florida) but that did not mention sexual orientation at all.
“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).”
Facebook has, however, told CNN that “we explicitly prohibit [advertisers] 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.”
It has also been pointed out that the sample size used in the study was very small.
The report, conducted by the Microsoft Institute and the Max Planck Institute, Germany, adds to growing concern about privacy issues when using sites such as Facebook.