We’ve known for some time that Facebook is able to figure out if you are gay or lesbian for marketing purposes.
In one study, a Stanford researcher was able to determine one Facebook user (a friend) was a lesbian by using her Facebook profile to generate a possible ad, even though the friend set her sexual identity to private. Other researchers looking at LGBTQ users found that it only takes a few likes for Facebook algorithms to figure out if you’re gay.
But it’s one thing to be hit for an ad for a Subaru or gay B&Bs, and it’s entirely another to have your identity harvested for nefarious political purposes. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal shows, it’s a short hop from the former to the latter.
Cambridge Analytica tricked Facebook into providing it with reams of information under the guise of research. (Facebook didn’t exactly pull out all the stops to make sure the request was legitimate.) Armed with information on 50 million users, Cambridge Analytica relied upon psychographics, an elaborate formula that uses your profile, likes and friends to determine just who you are.
That would include your sexual identity.
Related: It only takes a few Facebook likes to out someone, a study finds
No reporting has emerged yet to indicate Cambridge Analytica created ads (all of which were misleading and pro-Trump) to shake LGBT support for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. (The Russians created gay accounts as part of their effort to sow discord and ruin the American electoral process.) The firm did target African-American voters, so it wouldn’t be surprising if there wasn’t something similar yet to be uncovered.
But that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that, if you are on Facebook, a data firm financed by the far-right Mercer family and led by alt-right icon Steve Bannon probably knows your sexual identity – whether you’ve revealed it or not.
That’s the broader scandal that Cambridge Analytica has uncovered. Facebook has exacerbated the problem by adopting the same kind of tactics that made Big Tobacco so popular – delay, deny and deflect.
The problem is, the company’s rhetoric about your privacy doesn’t match its practices. In the meantime, there are deep-pocketed political opponents of your interests who know everything about you while they operate in the shadows.