Facebook users will almost certainly have noticed the wave of rainbow overlays on profile pictures, and may have wondered what was going on.
For the completely unaware, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last Friday, and Facebook released a tool which allowed users to show their support for the decision by giving a rainbow overlay to their profile picture, writes Adam Clark Estes for Gizmodo.
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Suspicions raised over rainbow profile picture tool
Facebook released the tool following a huge moment for civil rights in the U.S., and most people will not be surprised to hear that Facebook is keeping tabs on which users are making use of it.
Various articles have come out in the media asking if the stunt was part of “another experiment.” One piece in the Atlantic led to a swift response from a Facebook spokesperson, who claimed that “it’s not an experiment or test – everyone sees the same thing.”
Speculation arose due to past studies undertaken by Facebook without users’ knowledge, and the spokesperson did not deny that data on support for gay marriage would be added to its database.
History of data tracking at Facebook
Facebook tracks a huge amount of data on its users, including browser activity, and uses supercookies to continue tracking people who delete their accounts.
A previous profile picture protest on Facebook led to the publication of a paper entitled “The Diffusion of Support in an Online Social Movement” by a data scientist who works for the company. The paper shows how closely Facebook is monitoring its use in protest movements.
Facebook responded to a request for clarification on the issue of data tracking related to the rainbow profile picture tool. A spokesperson wrote: “This was not an experiment or test, but rather something that enables people to show their support of the LGBTQ community on Facebook. We aren’t going to use this as a way to target ads and the point of this tool is not to get information about people.”
All of which sounds like a roundabout way of not denying that data is being tracked, even though that might not be the primary purpose of the tool.