Facebook algorithm labeled thousands of Russian users as ‘interested in treason’

Facebook algorithm labeled thousands of Russian users as ‘interested in treason’
Image: LU Staff

[Ed. – I.e., Russian users in Russia, who are thereby placed at risk from a repressive state.  Facebook is an increasingly unworkable model.  There is no need to have an algorithm labeling users in any such way — and the origin of such labeling certainly goes as much to politically motivated intentions at Facebook as to commercial motivations.]

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, following 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.

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