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Researchers Show Facebook’s Ad Tools Can Target a Single User

A new research paper written by a team of academics and computer scientists from Spain and Austria has demonstrated that it’s possible to use Facebook’s targeting tools to deliver an ad exclusively to a single individual if you know enough about the interests Facebook’s platform assigns them. TechCrunch reports: The paper — entitled “Unique on Facebook: Formulation and Evidence of (Nano)targeting Individual Users with non-PII Data” — describes a “data-driven model” that defines a metric showing the probability a Facebook user can be uniquely identified based on interests attached to them by the ad platform. The researchers demonstrate that they were able to use Facebook’s Custom Audience tool to target a number of ads in such a way that each ad only reached a single, intended Facebook user.

The research raises fresh questions about potentially harmful uses of Facebook’s ad targeting tools, and — more broadly — questions about the legality of the tech giant’s personal data processing empire given that the information it collects on people can be used to uniquely identify individuals, picking them out of the crowd of others on its platform even purely based on their interests. The findings could increase pressure on lawmakers to ban or phase out behavioral advertising — which has been under attack for years, over concerns it poses a smorgasbord of individual and societal harms. And, at the least, the paper seems likely to drive calls for robust checks and balances on how such invasive tools can be used. The findings also underscore the importance of independent research being able to interrogate algorithmic adtech — and should increase pressure on platforms not to close down researchers’ access.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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