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How Do Facebook Advertisers Know You Might Want to Cruise Gay Dudes?

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We already learned that through some simple Facebook data mining, a pretty confident guess can be made about your sexuality. By merely looking at whether you have a lot of gay friends, two MIT researchers wrote a software program that outed Facebookers, even if you didn’t make public you are “interested in” the same sex. So does that explain why, even if you’re not openly gay on Facebook, the site still knows to show you ads for Atlantis cruises?

Actually, no.

Despite handing over all your intimate details, Facebook says its targeted advertising is based on only select demographics you make public, such as your age and location. The type of groups you belong to, or the celebs you become a “fan” of, play no part, the social networking site tells Farhad Manjoo.

When companies advertise on Facebook, they’re allowed to choose a range of demographic characteristics that determine which people see their ads. It’s possible that Atlantis didn’t choose to limit its ads just to gay people but, say, to all single men under 40 who live near San Francisco. This way the company gets to people like you—folks who aren’t out on Facebook but who might still be in the gay-cruise demographic.

The Facebook rep added a couple other points: Ads aren’t selected based on groups you’ve joined or based on your friends. You weren’t shown the gay-cruise ad because your friends are gay or because you became a fan of the group “No on Prop 8,” for instance.

But there is one caveat: If a friend of yours presses “Like” on an ad, Facebook will show you the ad, too, plus a note saying which of your friends liked it. The company also uses the “Like” feature to determine which ads to show you in the future.

So if you and your friends keep clicking “Like” on ads featuring hot shirtless men on the open water, well then yeah, Atlantis is gonna come calling in your sidebar.

TELL QUEERTY: Are you noticing gay ads popping up on Facebook? Or ads obviously geared toward heteros? Share ’em!