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Facebook targeting gays with advertising?

By Melissa Bell


Over on, a hilarious humor site that pokes fun at Facebook status updates, a status message appeared Wednesday in its "Out of the Closet Updates:"

Prince keeps getting "gay travel tips" and "gay travel agency" adverts... Is traveling different if you're straight? "Thank you for flying Gay air. Wishing you a fabulous flight."

Prince and his friends went on to banter about the differences between gay grocers, gay cotton plants and gay clothing companies. However, there may be a very good reason why Prince was receiving gay ads. Gawker reports that a Microsoft researcher found the same glitch responsible for the privacy breaches in the apps leak could let advertisers know a users sexual orientation.

It's a known fact that ads are targeted to Internet users based on their personal search data (It's why I get so many ads for pumpkin pie on my Gmail account) and the report discusses a hypothetical situation; it does not know if advertisers are collecting any information based on a user's sexual orientation.

However, the possible problem researchers discovered is that if certain ads are targeted to a specific group, in this case gay men, and the target audience clicks on the ad link, the advertising company can see where the person came from (e.g. Facebook). If that company only targets to gay men on Facebook, they'll know the user is gay.

The danger with such ads... 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 orientation and a unique identifier.

Gawker uses the example of a school application:

Let's say you click on that ad for the nursing school that targeted its advertising only to gay men. You fill out an application and mention that you saw their ad on Facebook. The school now knows you're a man who is interested in men, even if you've hidden your sexual orientation using Facebook's privacy settings.

Reached for comment, Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook said via e-mail, "Our advertising guidelines prohibit advertisers from using user data collected from running an ad on Facebook, including information derived from targeting criteria. For example, we explicitly prohibit them from associating that targeting detail with the data collected from the user in forms they fill out, applications they make, or other interactions on their site."

This definitely has all the lip-smacking qualities of a scandal, but it seems again another molehill rather than a mountain.

Listen, here's my advice: don't click on the ads if you don't want the advertising companies to see where you came from or save the information you don't everyone to know about for your offline life.

Am I wrong?

By Melissa Bell  | October 21, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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Anyone who clicks online ads - ANY online ad, whether on Facebook or Washington Post - is not smart.

Posted by: dastubbs | October 21, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

And your point is...???? I get ads targeted to 54 year old women in Washington, D.C. When I log in in New York, the ads seems to know that, too. There's no scandal - eventually we all learn not to click, or pass around time-wasting apps, or otherwise share more information than we wan to.

Posted by: kbockl | October 21, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for flagging this latest in a long series of privacy violations by Facebook, Melissa. One quibble, however: The correct term is "sexual orientation," NOT "sexual preference."

Posted by: DCSteve1 | October 21, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

What is a "gay ad"? I thought that gay people were like anyone else?

Is this stuff like offers for Judy Garland records? Or bib-overalls for women? Is it gay porn?

Seriously, I can't imagine that gay people buy differently than non-gays.

Posted by: Skeptic1 | October 21, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Wait a sec. I'll read anything. It doesn't mean I am gay just curious.

Facebook is making an unwarranted assumption here.

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | October 21, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Just because I lived in Greenbelt I got mail for African American causes, like from Bill Cosby. But I'm white so guessing I am black would be way off.

I don't know where people get their assumptions but you know what it makes them.

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | October 21, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

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