What is it about?

Personal data is used by large services online to reach certain types of users, but does this trespass some sort of line? This paper shows that Facebook tags 67% of their users worldwide with potentially sensitive interests linked to your social profile.

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Why is it important?

Our findings show that an important portion of FB users (67%, corresponding to 22% worldwide citizens) is labeled with some potentially sensitive ad preferences. This is important in terms of privacy. Following the direction of different laws around the world, and using as reference the GDPR, a legislation applicable in the EU, the processing of sensitive personal data is illegal (with limited exceptions). In terms of ethics and risks, being tagged and targeted with sensitive data enables the use of Facebook to attacks, inequalities and similar practices to users based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. Interestingly, developed-countries users are more exposed to being labeled with potentially sensitive interests in their profiles.


I hope this article makes online services such Facebook and others change their online business. In my opinion, these companies do not need to use these kind of information to get revenue and provide a useful service. I encourage the research and business communities to create a list of items that should not be used to prevent us all from the risks presented in this article. Together we can tackle this problem and make the Internet a better place!

José González Cabañas
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Does Facebook use sensitive data for advertising purposes?, Communications of the ACM, December 2020, ACM (Association for Computing Machinery),
DOI: 10.1145/3426361.
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