San Francisco: In new documents released by Facebook to answer questions raised by two Senate committees probing social media privacy, the social networking giant has admitted that it allows advertisers to target users based on their “interests” and “behaviors”. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the US Congress in April, he faced several questions from lawmakers. But his in-person testimony left them with several lingering questions.
Now, Facebook has followed up with 500 pages of answers to written questions from two Senate committees, The Verge reported on Monday. In the documents, Facebook answers questions about the several issues for which it has come under intense scrutiny in recent times – including issues related to Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal, ad targeting and moderation policies.
Responding to a question raised by a 2016 ProPublica investigation that revealed that advertisers could use “ethnic affinity” marketing categories to potentially discriminate against Facebook users in the areas of housing, employment and credit, in violation of federal law, Facebook said it does not offer targeting “based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity”.
But it did say that it offers “targeting options — called ‘interests’ and ‘behaviors’ — that are based on people’s activities on Facebook, and when, where and how they connect to the Internet”. Interestingly, the social network also said that it offers what it calls the “multicultural affinity segments” — groups of people whose activities on Facebook suggest they may be interested in content related to the African American, Asian American or Hispanic American communities.
For example, if a person “likes” Facebook Pages with the words “African American” in them or likes Pages for “Historically Black Colleges and Universities”, that person maybe included in the African American multicultural segment, Facebook explained, underlining the cautios tone it maintained while answering the questions. Facebook answered many questions regarding its policies in the documents, but many of them appeared evasive. When asked whether it tracks “every IP address ever used when logging into Facebook”, the social network did not provide a simple yes or no answer. Instead, the company pointed to a vague “retention schedule”, The Verge report said.