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Facebook apologises after labelling 65,000 Russians 'interested in treason'

Press Trust of India/London 12 Jul 18 | 04:46 PM

A Facebook spokesperson said the label was intended to only identify historical treason

Facebook has apologised after its advertising tools algorithmically labelled 65,000 Russians as "interested in treason", a day after the social media giant was discovered to have given access to its site to a mail service with links to the Kremlin, a media report said here on Thursday.

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The labelling, which potentially put the Russians at risk of probe by the Russian government, raises new concerns over data-driven profiling on the social media website, which has already faced global criticism for the same tool algorithmically inferring information about users' race, sexuality and political views, according to a report in The Guardian.

Apologising for the goof-up, a Facebook spokesperson 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, the spokesperson said.

Determining users' interests algorithmically is a key aspect of the site's advertising platform which allows advertisers to target users more accurately than they could by using simple demographic measures.

For example, advertisers can run exclusive adverts targeting users living in Russia and marked as being interested in treason and then record the IP addresses of those who clicked through, the report said.

In a statement, the company said the issue has 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.

On Wednesday, Facebook was reportedly found to have given privileged access to its site to Russian mail service Mail.Ru. After the reports surfaced, Facebook vice president Ime Archibong told CNN that the company didn't find any evidence of the Mail.Ru abusing that access.

Earlier this month, Facebook had admitted that it shared user data with 52 technology companies, including four Chinese firms. The company said it has ended 38 of its 52 partnerships and will shut down those remaining by July.

Britain's data regulator on Wednesday said it will slap a fine of half a million pounds ($660,000) on Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal in which the company provided personal information of its millions of users, without their knowledge, to private firms across the globe.

The data was allegedly used to attempt to influence voters' opinions on behalf of politicians who hired those firms.

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