I would like to expand upon the last blog post I wrote and continue my complaining about Facebook ads. There was a recent news flare up about how Facebook could be accidentally outing gay users. With the national attention given to teen suicides caused by bullying and the recent suicide of Tyler Clementi, this can be taken as troubling news. Unintentional outings should be, and are under rather intense scrutiny.
Facebook’s Data Collection
Since Facebook’s job is to display things about people that they want to tell their friends and family, it naturally has the ability to collect data about people. People naturally give up their information to make their page more personable. In fact, Facebook collects so much information from people that advertisers can literally pinpoint demographics down to very specific groups, like people who watch football, live in New York, drink beer, and drive Nissans. This is good for advertisers and users alike because this allows ads to display that are directly targeting the user’s demographic. However, it’s this very component that also allows advertisers to find out sexual preferences of users as well. The New York Times put it best:
“…Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany found that it was possible for an advertiser to find the stated sexual preference of Facebook users.
The researchers created six nearly identical Facebook accounts, three for men and three for women. The one significant difference was that in one account for each gender, the profile specified that the user was “interested in” people of the same sex.
Not surprisingly, the different accounts were shown different ads, because advertisers can specify what types of people they want to reach on the site. In particular, the accounts that appeared to belong to gay people received ads for things like gay bars.
But the researchers also found that the gay profiles were shown ads that were not shown to straight people and had no obvious connection to sexual preference — like those for a nursing degree at a medical college in Florida, which appeared exclusively in the gay man’s account.
If users click on such an ad and visit the advertiser’s site, they are essentially revealing to the advertiser that they are gay.
“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,” the researchers wrote…”
Privacy Issues Affect All of Us
What got me fired up for this post was when I went to check my own Facebook account today I saw a new ad for the first time. I was a little shocked, considering nothing in my 82 “likes” would warrant such an ad, but I come to expect this from Facebook ads these days. Here’s the ad:
To Click or Not to Click?
I rarely click an ad on Facebook anyway, but what if, by accident, this ad gets clicked? (As the father of a 20-month old climber and an owner of a nimble cat, I can say that stranger things have happened.) By clicking on this ad I feel like I will forever be in the eyes of Facebook, only worthy of obscene ads on my Facebook page. I would be weary about what ad may display next. That’s not cool! My wife and I are sometimes on my Facebook account together looking at pictures. This is not what I want to see every time I log into Facebook. It kind of ruins it.. I can only think, “What will happen next? What else do they think they can determine by the action of clicking on an ad? If I don’t click on this ads meant for straight people, will they then target me for gay ads? What is my wife going to think if she sees ads targeting gays on my Facebook page?” You see where this can lead…
Better Safe than Sorry
I know Facebook is all about sharing and that it’s a social network, but there has got to be a better way to keep things meant to be private, private. If by clicking on an ad on Facebook, I am revealing sensitive information about myself, the logical solution would be to never click on ads. It is certainly easy enough to not click on ads and there is nothing that will force me to do so. This is further proof of why Google’s ad platform prevails over Facebook’s ads.
What do you think? Have you noticed Facebook targeting you with ads? Do you ever click, or do you just ignore them? Give me some insight in the comments!