Study Reveals Facebook Could Be Outing Gay Users

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A new study from Microsoft Research India and Max Planck Institute for Software Systems shows that companies are taking gender preferences into account when posting their ads on Facebook. Though that is completely logical, they also found out whether or not you reveal your sexual orientation on your profile, companies still somehow have access to the knowledge and are using it to their advantage.

The researchers set up profiles for straight men, straight women, gay men and lesbians. Gay men and lesbians were shown specific ads targeted toward their presumed lifestyle, but these same ads were not shown to straight individuals. Some neutral-sounding ads are only shown to gay users, which concerned the team because these seemingly innocent items could potentially be used as a barometer to judge a user’s sexual preference.

For example, if a person has not revealed this information on their Facebook profile, companies could show them a slew of straight and gay targeted advertising that seems to be for everyone. Users that click on these hidden “gay-themed” ads would inadvertently be notifying the company that they might be homosexual, in essence outing that person.

“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),” the study reported.

It’s okay if the information stays within the company, but it becomes more concerning when this information could be shared with third-party individuals or, even worse, as we learned earlier this week leaked online. Anyone who gets ahold of your file could discover your sexual preference. Although the data is supposed to be anonymous, the Facebook ID situation shows that it is not always the case.

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