Is Facebook trampling over laws that regulate the processing of sensitive categories of personal data by failing to ask people for their explicit consent before it makes sensitive inferences about their sex life, religion or political beliefs? Or is the company merely treading uncomfortably and unethically close to the line of the law? An investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation has found that Facebook’s platform allows advertisers to target users based on interests related to political beliefs, sexuality and religion — all categories that are marked out as sensitive information under current European data protection law. And indeed under the incoming GDPR , which will apply across the bloc from May 25. The joint investigation found Facebook’s platform had made sensitive inferences about users — allowing advertisers to target people based on inferred interests including communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity. All of which would be classed as sensitive personal data under EU rules. And while the platform offers some constraints on how advertisers can target people against sensitive interests — not allowing advertisers to exclude users based on a specific sensitive interest, for example (Facebook having previously run into trouble in the US for enabling discrimination via ethnic affinity-based targeting ) — such controls are beside the point if you take the view that Facebook is legally required to ask for a user’s explicit consent to processing this kind of sensitive data up front, before making any inferences about a person. Indeed, it’s very unlikely that any ad platform can put people into buckets with sensitive labels like ‘interested in social democrat issues’ or ‘likes communist pages’ or ‘attends gay events’ without asking them to let it do so first. And Facebook is not asking first. This is going to be a big battleground. We talk about inferred special category data in the context of the Article 29 Working Party guidelines on profiling here > https://t.co/TjCHqOvcBA (open access) https://t.co/XZB5ypjELs — Michael Veale (@mikarv) May 16, 2018 Facebook argues otherwise, of course — claiming that the information it gathers about people’s affinities/interests, even when they entail sensitive categories of information such as sexuality and religion, is not personal data.
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Facebook faces fresh criticism over ad targeting of sensitive interests