Life support systems; Facebook server room. Photo by Jason Madara/Gallery Stock

Facebook thinks I am Gay. Here is why I am worried.

For four years, I was working as a Media Planner. All the while, I was fascinated by the amount of data that was at my disposal and the nuanced details they presented about consumer habits and behavior. For traditional mediums like TV, Radio, Newspaper, Outdoor and Cinema, the data is captured by third parties for a statistically valid sample size, the collected data is then extrapolated with the prowess of statistics, vetted and presented to the Campaign planners.

Cometh the Internet, Every piece of personal data left behind by users are captured by data aggregators who then compile a detailed personal profile of users that are traded across various advertising platforms. In the case of Facebook, however, starting from the creation of profile till data submission every job is voluntarily done by millions of unsuspecting users. It should be noted that in order to increase this workforce in the developing world, Facebook is lobbying vehemently for “Free Basics” with the notorious claim of uplifting the society.

Understanding the role played by the traditional media in the dissemination of Information and the role played by the new media in the collection of information made me more aware of their actions and functions in the society. My own conscience was not fully convinced with the unchecked reach of these hidden algorithms and I moved on from being a Media Planner to a Policy Graduate. Finally, today facebook reasserted the feeling of falling prey to these faceless algorithms by showing this ad in my timeline.

Stay Like a Gay Local

I am not offended in being shown an Ad that misappropriated my gender but I am greatly offended by an algorithm that intrudes into my personal space, reaching out to the finer details of my sexual orientation and showing me an ad that directly implies my intimate life decisions. The implications of this are plenty. What if a homophobic ruler or a leader in a society uses this very own algorithm to run an ad (Well it is money for Facebook) deceitfully to identify members of LGBT community in his country? Users who then click on the ad link and land on the website can be traced back by placing personally identifiable information in their computers.

Interestingly, It is also categorized under ‘Prohibited Content’ by Facebook.
Facebook Advertising Policy: Section 3 D - ‘Prohibited Content

Content that asserts or implies personal attributes. This includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race, ethnic origin, religion, beliefs, age, sexual orientation or practices, gender identity, disability, medical condition (including physical or mental health), financial status, membership in a trade union, criminal record, or name.

It is shocking beyond belief that advertisements which directly quote the sexual preference of users are being allowed for targeting. On probing further, I was taken aback by the detailed list of my own actions presented to me by Facebook. Every place I visited, everything I read about, everything I wrote about, everything I searched, not just on Facebook but on multiple other websites where there for display. It exposed my own political preferences, thought processes, actions as my mind felt naked in front of these invisible algorithms.

It is well documented that users of facebook were subjected to thought experiments and emotional manipulations via their exposure to news feed information. While this is done under the pretext of maintaining the wellbeing of society, It raises several ethical questions. When the actions of these invisible algorithms can impinge my personal intricate thought processes, There should be a greater stress and need, now more than ever to hold these algorithms accountable for the actions they perform on their millions of unsuspecting users.

If all this was not creepy enough, Facebook really wanted me to have a ‘Good Evening’ by posting this notification while I was drafting this text.

Good Evening Facebook!

Update: It has come to my notice that one of the WhatsApp group that I am part of was renamed to Gays. However, I am still checking if that has any influence on the ad that was shown to me today. WhatsApp’s main USP was no ads till they were bought by Facebook.

Zuckerberg hinted that user data generated through FB Messenger and WhatsApp will be monetized soon.

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