Report: Facebook labels 65,000 Russians as “interested in treason”
MOSCOW, Jul 12 (PRIME) -- Facebook’s advertising tools algorithmically labelled 65,000 Russians as interested in treason, potentially putting them at risk from the repressive state, until the company removed the category, The Guardian reported on Thursday, referring to inquiries from journalists.
The labelling raises new concerns over data-driven profiling and targeting of users on the website, which has already faced criticism for the same tool algorithmically inferring information about users’ race, sexuality and political views despite data protection legislation requiring explicit consent to hold such information.
Facebook said the label was intended to only identify historical treason. “Treason was included as a category, given its historical significance. Given it’s an illegal activity, we’ve removed it as an interest category,” a spokesperson said.
Although Facebook does not directly expose user interests to external parties, advertisers can easily uncover them through careful use of the company’s public-access tools. For instance, they could run an advert targeting exclusively users living in Russia and marked as being interested in treason, then record the IP addresses of users who clicked through.
Those tools may be appealing to a state that is comfortable using the Internet for repression, said Russia expert Mette Skak, an academic at Aarhus University. “Officially, the Internet is not censored in Russia. However, these methods, which Facebook has probably unwittingly given the Russian authorities, make it much easier for governmental agencies to systematically track persons marked as potential traitors.”
In a statement, Facebook said that the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, which first highlighted the problem and shared the issue with The Guardian, had “raised a number of important questions about the way Facebook’s advertising systems work. Our goal is to ensure people see ads that are relevant and useful. It’s better for the people using our service, as well as for advertisers.
“When we identify misuse of our ads products, we take action. Depending on the violation, we may remove the ad, suspend the ad account or even report the advertiser to law enforcement.”
The news comes a day after Facebook was discovered to have given privileged access to its site to Russian Internet company Mail.Ru Group.