Facebook’s sensitive data ad targeting likely breaches new laws

Facebook’s sensitive data ad targeting likely breaches new laws

Another day, another problem for Facebook.

The Guardian reports that Facebook routinely allows advertisers to target users according to data tags that will be regarded as too sensitive for use under new data protection laws.

These tags include sexual orientation, religion and political alignment. Some of this information is determined by algorithms that examine user activity and extrapolate what categories they most likely fall into.

For instance, these tools can tell us that from Facebook’s UK userbase there are around 68,000 people whose interests include both Hinduism and homosexuality.

This in itself presents a risk, as according to the information commissioner’s office: “This type of data could create more significant risks to a person’s fundamental rights and freedoms, for example, by putting them at risk of unlawful discrimination.”

Facebook currently offers users the choice between protecting or hiding such personal data about themselves, but does not ask for consent for said data to be used by commercial partners.

Big Brother is most definitely watching

In addition, while Facebook currently allows advertisers to target people according to these special interests, it does not allow them to exclude people based on this data. Advertisers are also barred from using this data “to discriminate against, harass, provoke or disparage users, or to engage in predatory advertising practices”.

In response to the discovery Facebook has tried to draw a distinction between a user’s interests and personal information.

“Like other internet companies, Facebook shows ads based on topics we think people might be interested in, but without using sensitive personal data,” it argued. “This means that someone could have an ad interest listed as gay pride because they have liked a Pride-associated page or clicked a Pride ad, but it does not reflect any personal characteristics such as gender or sexuality.

“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.”

The news comes a day after Facebook was accused of a signficant data breach.