Facebook to stop telling advertisers which users are interested in treason

The social network said the topic, used by companies to target advertisements, had been eliminated, ‘given it’s an illegal activity’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 1:53am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 4:15am

Facebook has removed “treason” as a keyword to identify its users’ interests for advertisers, it said on Wednesday, after Danish state broadcaster DR revealed its existence.

In an article, DR cited experts expressing concerns that the tag – which Facebook called an “interest category” – could be used by intelligence services in authoritarian regimes to identify people considered subversive.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with more than 2 billion users, creates categories like “sports” or “music” based on its users’ online interests, allowing companies to better target their advertising.

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A spokesman for the company said that the tag was removed last week, writing in an email: “‘Treason’ was included as a category given its historical significance. Given it’s an illegal activity, we’ve removed it as an interest category.”

Experts told DR the tag could have been used by hackers to locate an estimated 65,000 Facebook users whose online behaviour had marked them as interested in “treason”.

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Facebook has acknowledged that hackers employed by the Russian government used Facebook accounts to spread false news accounts and bought targeted ads during the 2016 US presidential campaign.

The Facebook spokesman said: “When we identify misuse of our ad 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.”

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Separately on Wednesday, Britain’s information regulator said it would fine Facebook £500,000 (US$663,000) for breaches of data protection law after millions of users’ data was improperly made available to the British consultancy Cambridge Analytica.