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Facebook Lets Advertisers Target Users Based on Sensitive Interests

Among the interests found in users' profiles were communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity, it stated

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LinkedIn faced probe for Facebook ads targeting 18 mn non-members. Pixabay

Just a few days ahead of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect, a Guardian investigation has found that Facebook lets advertisers to target users it thinks are interested in sensitive subjects such as homosexuality, Islam or liberalism.

Religion, sexuality and political beliefs are explicitly marked out as sensitive information under new data protection laws, said the report on Wednesday.

Facebook, according to the report, collects information about users based on their browsing habit and activities on the social network, and uses that information to predict on their interests and then categorise them based on inferred interests such as Islam or homosexuality.

Also Read: Facebook Reports Increased Posts of Graphic Violence in Q1 2018

Facebook is able to infer extremely personal information about users, which it allows advertisers to use for targeting purposes, found the Guardian investigation conducted in conjunction with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

Among the interests found in users’ profiles were communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity, it stated.

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Facebook. Pixabay

The GDPR which comes into effect on May 25 labels such categories of information as sensitive and mandates special conditions around how they can be collected and processed.

While Facebook, as part of its GDPR-focused updates, asked every user to confirm whether or not “political, religious, and relationship information” they had entered on the site should continue to be stored or displayed, it gathered no such consent for information it had inferred about users.

Facebook, however, said that classifying a user’s interests was not the same as classifying their personal traits.

Also Read: Facebook Plans to Launch its Own Cryptocurrency

“Like other Internet companies, Facebook shows ads based on topics we think people might be interested in, but without using sensitive personal data,” Facebook was quoted as saying

“Our advertising complies with relevant EU law and, like other companies, we are preparing for the GDPR to ensure we are compliant when it comes into force,” it added. (IANS)

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47 Attorneys General in US Join Anti-trust Probe Against Facebook

"The District of Columbia has joined this investigation to ensure Facebook is giving a fair shake to district residents and the American people. No company gets a pass if it throttles competitors and exploits consumers," said District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine

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FILE - The logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square, March 29, 2018. VOA

In fresh trouble for Facebook, 47 attorneys general in the US have officially joined an investigation into Facebook for its anti-competitive market practices.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said the investigation now has the support of 47 attorneys general from around the nation, “who are all concerned that Facebook may have put consumer data at risk, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, and increased the price of advertising”.

“We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions stifled competition and put users at risk,” James said in a statement late Tuesday.

The investigation launched last month with support from attorneys general from eight states — New York, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington, DC.

Facebook had earlier said it will work “constructively” with the attorneys general and engage with policy makers in a discussion about the competitive environment.

“Social media is a critical part of doing business in today’s economy. Any effort by Facebook to unlawfully stifle competition could cause wide-ranging harm to smaller companies, restrict consumer choice, and increase costs for all,” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.

According to Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings, “We are investigating whether Facebook has broken the law through anti-competitive practices or other acts that harm consumers.”

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An iPhone displays the app for Facebook in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019. VOA

In a stern warning to tech giants, the US House Anti-Trust Committee has opened probes into Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and other tech giants to determine if they prevent competition and hurt consumers.

The investigation’s core is the idea that “the Internet is broken”.

“Big Tech must account for its actions. I am proud to join my Republican and Democrat colleagues in efforts to ensure Tech Giants can no longer hide behind complexity and complicity,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey added: “It’s important that the internet remains fair and open to everyone. We are participating with a broad coalition of states in an investigation of Facebook’s business practices.”

A bipartisan coalition led by New York attorney general has launched an investigation into Facebook to understand whether it stifled competition and put users at risk.

“The District of Columbia has joined this investigation to ensure Facebook is giving a fair shake to district residents and the American people. No company gets a pass if it throttles competitors and exploits consumers,” said District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine. (IANS)