Facebook Ad Targeting

Advertising termsI 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:

obscene ad on facebook

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!

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5 comments on “Facebook Ad Targeting

Facebook Ad Services

Many ads don’t target by psychographics (likes and interests). As an advertiser, you have an option to leave that section blank, in which case you’re more than likely only be targeting by demographics. If an advertiser finds that everyone ages 30 and up converts well for their product/service/offer, he obviously won’t limit it to just interest/likes targeting. So you may have been getting that ad just because you were in the demographic range of the advertiser’s ad, not based off any of your interests.

The LGBT topic is a silly one. If a gay man converts higher on a nursing school ad then a straight man, and targeting straight men is losing me money… why would I continue to target straight men? Obviously, gay men are interested in that topic, and while it obviously isn’t an offer limited to only gay men, why should it have to be. An advertiser has a right to serve ads to their target market (and if that target market is highest converting on gay men, you can be sure I’ll target them even if the offer has nothing to do with them), and a user has the option to turn on privacy controls, exclude data from their profile, ignore advertising, or move to another website.

Clicking on an ad has absolutely no consequence in what kind of ads you’ll be shown in the future. Your profile settings, interests, and demographic data you’ve entered in controls that. Facebook advertisers have no options to re-target people that have already clicked on their ad before.


Clayton Walter

This is what my my ads were this morning…

1) Internet Marketing Cert.:
Learn E Commerce, SEO, Sociale Media & More…

2) Bedroom Smoke:
A blog created for funny awkward, sexy, and unbelievable bedroom stories.

3) Win Entry into the WSOBP (World Series of Beer Pong)

All seems pretty accurate for this guy…Sorry, John.


John L.

@ Facebook Ad Services

Thank you for commenting, and further thank you for the clarification.


Mark Marshall

Don’t wanna sound like a spambot here – but very insightful post! :) The question for me is, and I guess this gets to a larger issue – do we care if Facebook thinks we’re gay? Or is it more that, if Facebook thinks so, then is some OTHER agency who is using datamining, like, say, an insurance company, going to think so? And if so, are they going to raise our rates, or deny coverage, etc…


    Allison Gray Teetsel

    Hi Mark, thanks for the comment! I think that the issue has more to do with the corporations who are using the ads for datamining, as you said. There is also the fact that not everyone is comfortable identifying one way or another. If Facebook is using ad-targeting, and uses someone’s relationship status or sexual identity (or perceived identity) to target them, that can raise a number of issues. I think it really comes down to the same issue we’ve been seeing time and time again with social media…how much privacy are we entitled to on the internet?