Gay Teen Inadvertently Outed by Facebook Targeted Ads
Curiously, David (we’ll give him that name) did not place the offending material on his Facebook profile – someone else did. He never mentioned anywhere on his profile that he was gay, and was not openly involved in any online gay groups. For David, living in a closed-minded community and with homophobic parents, such revelations would be disastrous.
But if David didn’t place that material on his profile, who did?
The culprit is Facebook. The company placed that material on his page without notification, without his consent and in violation of every principle of care that the company claims to stand for. It did so through a covert mechanism of targeted advertising, deeply analysing David’s Facebook activities and relationships and then posting blatant ads on his profile that scream “Hey! This user is queer!”
David knew the ads were displayed on his profile, but could do nothing to remove them no matter how hard he tried. They just kept coming back. On this occasion he made the mistake of leaving his computer screen on while going to the shop, unaware that his parents were to return earlier than expected to the house.
Real talk, this sucks. We hope “David” is alright, wherever he may be. But the Privacy International author is arguing a very muddled point.
For starters, we take umbrage with the original title, How Facebook’s Targeted Ads Destroyed the Life of a Young Man. There is a very strong argument to make that it was David’s terrible parents’ illegal abandonment of their son that “destroyed his life.” London’s increasing subculture of extreme homophobia may also carry some of the blame here.
Facebook didn’t place incriminating information on this young man’s profile “without his permission.” The very act of creating a Facebook page and participating in the world’s biggest social networking site requires acknowledgement of the company’s terms of service, which include targeting ads.
Facebook is an advertising company. That’s what they do. Surely the author has noticed this? Facebook’s revenue comes from placing highly targeted ads based upon a user’s listed interests. David was fed “Gay Speed Dating London” ads because advertisers were targeting interests he had listed, and correctly at that.
Closeted Facebook users should surely exercise caution when using the free site, especially if their home life is potentially volatile. But to accuse Facebook of destroying a man’s life? Uh-uh. That’s not going to fly.
What do you think? Is Facebook to blame here?