Facebook “Accidentally Outing Gay Users”

Written by Zac Johnson
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I came across this article today, called “Facebook ‘accidentally outing gay users’ to outside firms through targeted ads“, which I thought was kind of interesting, simply because this use of demographic targeting as a method of advertising has been used for years now. As an advertiser on Facebook Ads, it’s a no brainer that you can target your ad campaigns to an insanely specific demographics, and “sexual preference” being one of them. Obviously, if you are advertising to “Males” and their preference is set at “Males”… then one might correctly assume they are gay, so advertising “Gay” dating campaigns (for example) is an effective way to advertise to this demographic. It’s really no different than other demographic, single, married, etc. Apparently this is new to the rest of the world however and note worthy of a story about privacy protection.

The articles goes on to say “The discovery could mean that people who wish to keep their sexuality private may be sharing it with advertisers without their knowledge.“. However, I would think if this was the case, and people were concerned about their sexual preference being known to others… why post that information to Facebook in the first place… it’s only the largest social network in the world?

I understand in light of the recent news stories on cyber bullying, having your privacy protected is important, and it’s now in the news more than ever after the tragic Tyler Clementi story, where a Rutgers student, committed suicide after having a video released of his sexual encounter.

I was actually at Rutgers today and spoke with a few students and was explaining to them about how the advertisements on Facebook work, and how what you see as an advertisement is strictly based on your demographics and interests. Many of them were completely ignorant of this and were blown away when told. They had no idea that the demographic information they voluntarily provided to Facebook actually drove the ads they saw. Even though it should be so very obvious to the user at some points. Change your status to “engaged”, and all you will see are ads based on weddings, gowns and wedding planning. The same holds true for many other demographic/status changes.

What seems like simple knowledge to us (Internet marketers), that being targeting users by demographics, and using that targeting information to provide the user a better experience by focusing information on topics they are most interested in, this appears to be foreign to the everyday user that willingly provides their demographic details in the first place.
Bottom line is… while targeting to demographics is as old as marketing itself, the Internet marketing world is a whole new world to the user we market to. What are your thoughts on this article and targeting towards demographics, and is the information Facebook allows it’s advertisers to target to actually a privacy issue?

Right on Facebook’s privacy policy the following appears:

To serve personalized advertising to you. We don’t share your information with advertisers without your consent. (An example of consent would be if you asked us to provide your shipping address to an advertiser to receive a free sample.) We allow advertisers to choose the characteristics of users who will see their advertisements and we may use any of the non-personally identifiable attributes we have collected (including information you may have decided not to show to other users, such as your birth year or other sensitive personal information or preferences) to select the appropriate audience for those advertisements. For example, we might use your interest in soccer to show you ads for soccer equipment, but we do not tell the soccer equipment company who you are. You can see the criteria advertisers may select by visiting our advertising page. Even though we do not share your information with advertisers without your consent, when you click on or otherwise interact with an advertisement there is a possibility that the advertiser may place a cookie in your browser and note that it meets the criteria they selected.

How much responsibility does the user have to be aware of how information they provide may be used? Nothing “accidental” with this privacy issue, it’s all out in the open if one bothers to read it.

Bottom line #2: In every case, be an informed user…… what are your thoughts?

Right on Facebook’s privacy policy the following appears:
To serve personalized advertising to you. We don’t share your information with advertisers without your consent. (An example of consent would be if you asked us to provide your shipping address to an advertiser to receive a free sample.) We allow advertisers to choose the characteristics of users who will see their advertisements and we may use any of the non-personally identifiable attributes we have collected (including information you may have decided not to show to other users, such as your birth year or other sensitive personal information or preferences) to select the appropriate audience for those advertisements. For example, we might use your interest in soccer to show you ads for soccer equipment, but we do not tell the soccer equipment company who you are. You can see the criteria advertisers may select by visiting our advertising page. Even though we do not share your information with advertisers without your consent, when you click on or otherwise interact with an advertisement there is a possibility that the advertiser may place a cookie in your browser and note that it meets the criteria they selected.

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32 Replies to “Facebook “Accidentally Outing Gay Users””

  1. Yea, the cyber bullying of gays story is grossly over stated. There have been suicide of foreigners and fat kids and more. There is no gay cyber bullying epidemic, its the same bullying that's been going on to everyone since the beginning of time except now they want to pass pro-gay legislation or something.

    Aside from that, good post.

      1. Does the same for me and always have man… a problem at ur end 😉
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      2. The popup does for me exactly as Zac says. About every 15 days. If it did come up everyday it wouldn't be that big of a bother, I'd just close it out and continue. I don't see it as an issue.
        My recent post Free Guide To Business In Second Life is Here!

          1. They may reset their cookies everyday? That would make every visit act like a new visit. Also, they may be unaware that their computers are set to delete cookies during an overnight update. This is only thing I can figure is causing it.
            My recent post Free Guide To Business In Second Life is Here!

  2. Good Post Zac. In my opinion cast, creed, sex or region or such private info should not be shared openly on Facebook.
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  3. Its sad to hear about all the gay suicides lately, but like someone who already commented said — its nothing new. IMO, facebook can do whatever they want.
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  4. Facebook has been really been getting a lot of press lately..and not good press either.

    "TrafficColeman "Signing Off"

  5. omg didn't u think that it's not necessarily gays,

    there can be men seeking men for networking for examply.

    The whole post is shortsighted.

  6. IMO if your going to let things on facebook bother to the point of suicide, then you need to delete your account and not visit the site. The site is a public site. All information you post there is pretty much open to everyone. If you don't want people knowing about your private stuff then don't put it on the internet.

    As for advertising I like Facebook for the use of ads and promoting. I can reach a lot of people.
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  7. if you dont want your identity to be outed to the world. then just be extra cautious on the things you do on facebook..simple!
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  8. The loophole is yet another example of a Facebook privacy breach after it emerged that millions of pieces of personal information were being shared without users’ consent after using popular apps.

  9. Was actually interested about why this just came out when its been around for so long. I guess people are late in smelling the coffee.

  10. Really It is very nice post.Which would make every visit act like a new visit. Also, they may be unaware that their computers are set to delete cookies during an overnight update.

  11. Hi Zac, I'm new to your site and glad I found it.
    I can't believe people would get upset about their personal things becoming public. Seriously, what do they think Facebook is?
    Thanks for sharing such a great article.

  12. It amazes me how people find this to be a shocker. When you share your sexuality preference it will show up in one way or the other. If your single Facebook ads will prob show dating sites. Like you said engaged they will show things related to weddings etc… If your a 20 year old they will show ads that appeal to 20 year old males for example.

    This is how the marketers get such targeted marketing out of Facebook. I understand the privacy issue but if you do not want your personal information out there do not make a Facebook account it's that easy.
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  13. Privacy was one of the biggest problems in Facebook. The thing is, if you don't want someone to know anything about you, why join this social networking site?

    I think Mark Zuck. accepted that Facebook lacks privacy but they are now working on it.

    On "Gay", the only option is "Men" at the moment. But I think Facebook will be discussing deeper into this issue and will add "Gay" and "Lesbian" if necessary.

  14. It's obvious, media strikes again! Most advertisement on facebook is based on age and sex which afterwards is content related, that being said, if some users who clearly state they're homosexual somewhere on their profile, comments or status message, why ever expect privacy?
    On any popular social network, any reason is good enough to start criticizing…
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  15. This ads are automatically generated by the FaceBook pages. The content of these ads changes depending on who & where you are , age ,sex ,etc. This means, it is dependent on what you write on your profiles or your settings.
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  16. What's wrong with this? They're the ones who want to serve openly in the armed forces and have same-sex marriages.

    Bring them on out of the woodwork. The rest of us would like to know who you are.

  17. the thing with the preference on FB is that you only have two options – unlike a monitoring survey on an application form – you can't put on FB 'prefer not to say'. It also shows up on your profile even if you hide everything else on your FB page from those who don't know you/are not connected.

    It is revealed without your consent as far as i recall.
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  18. It is shocking how facebook has started to use something like sexual orientation for their monetary gains. It is completely ridiculous and i have had enough of this crap. I have shut my facebook account and I am now waiting for new social networking sites like MyCube and Diaspora to launch

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