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How Facebook Outs Sex Workers ( 635

An anonymous reader shares a Gizmodo report: Leila has two identities, but Facebook is only supposed to know about one of them. Leila is a sex worker. She goes to great lengths to keep separate identities for ordinary life and for sex work, to avoid stigma, arrest, professional blowback, or clients who might be stalkers (or worse). Her "real identity" -- the public one, who lives in California, uses an academic email address, and posts about politics -- joined Facebook in 2011. Her sex-work identity is not on the social network at all; for it, she uses a different email address, a different phone number, and a different name. Yet earlier this year, looking at Facebook's "People You May Know" recommendations, Leila (a name I'm using in place of either of the names she uses) was shocked to see some of her regular sex-work clients. Despite the fact that she'd only given Facebook information from her vanilla identity, the company had somehow discerned her real-world connection to these people -- and, even more horrifyingly, her account was potentially being presented to them as a friend suggestion too, outing her regular identity to them. Because Facebook insists on concealing the methods and data it uses to link one user to another, Leila is not able to find out how the network exposed her or take steps to prevent it from happening again. "We're living in an age where you can weaponize personal information against people"Kashmir Hill, the reporter who wrote the above story, a few weeks ago shared another similar incident.
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How Facebook Outs Sex Workers

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:45AM (#55355543)

    criminalizing prostitution.

    • by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:47AM (#55355561)
      criminalizing prostitution.


      The real problem is that privacy rules are not protected by jail terms for company directors.

      • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:52AM (#55355603)

        Both are real problems.

      • by sittingnut ( 88521 ) <sittingnut&gmail,com> on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:03AM (#55355727) Homepage

        analyzing and publishing public information is not an invasion of privacy, even when done on a massive detailed scale using new technology.

        facebook is a public place, created to exploit user information for facebook investors' advantage, with no privacy whatsoever, don't use it. don't put yourself at the mercy of exploiters running facebook, if you care for privacy.

        case would be different when non facebook users are exploited by zuck and gang, that too happens. that should be criminalized with prison. .

        • analyzing and publishing public information is not an invasion of privacy, even when done on a massive detailed scale using new technology.

          True but isn't annoying to have to go deep-cover using CIA/FSB level tradecraft to avoid blow-back from a weekend night of sophomoric high inks? God help you if your undercover law enforcement or WitSec! I'm sure FB could easily be hit with interfering with a police officer even if a privacy charge can't beleveled.

        • by rastos1 ( 601318 )

          analyzing and publishing public information is not an invasion of privacy, even when done on a massive detailed scale using new technology.

          How so?

          Quantity matters. If you look at me at the street. It's not a problem. If you follow me 24/7 everywhere anytime I put a foot in a public space, it is a problem.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:08AM (#55355787)

        Both are pretty serious problems and ones that massively would benefit society if changed. Of course that would require people to a) get over religion and b) get over the quasi-religious belief that people with a lot of money are somehow "good".

    • That is _a_ problem, but the societal stigma of sex work will remain even if the trade is made legal.
    • I don't think the problem here is that it is illegal. Even if it were legal I don't think anyone would want their clients from such an enterprise tracking them down when off duty. Further, regardless of the law, it still has a social stigma.
    • But even if prostitution was legal and socially acceptable, don't you still think there would be prostitutes that would want to keep their day job hidden from family members or others?

    • It's a problem but not necessarily pertinent to this story given "sex workers" covers a range of professions, many legal.

      The actual problem here is that Facebook is doing nothing to protect the privacy of its users, and in fact, is actually deliberately, intentionally, destroying their privacy. Google, for all of the "They're selling your stuff to advertisers!" BS, actually doesn't go anywhere near as far as Facebook does trying to reveal your life to others.

      Facebook has become too dangerous. I don't k

      • by Gryle ( 933382 )
        The solution to ending Facebook is simple: stop using. Well, simple in theory anyway. Facebook only has as much power as we (I'm speaking in the collective sense here) give it. Stop using it. Convince others to stop using it. While you're at it, perfect cold fusion.
    • There was a study done on the effects legalized prostitution has on sex trafficking. The study found that legalizing prostitution resulted in both increases in demand for sex workers (duh) as well as increases in human trafficking. I'm no longer convinced that simply legalizing prostitution is the answer.

      Maybe decriminalizing being a prostitute, while criminalizing being a John? I'm open to ideas.

      A source (there are other news articles, and the study is out there somewhere as well): https://journa []
  • Facial Recognition (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crow ( 16139 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:46AM (#55355555) Homepage Journal

    This is probably due to someone posting a photo with both people in it. Facebook will use facial recognition on photos, and when it sees two people in the same photo, I would expect it to suggest a connection.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:50AM (#55355581)
      Who in their right mind (client or sex worker) would post a picture online of them being together? It is much more likely that the Facebook App used location data, and saw these two people together for a certain time on a certain location. Which is exactly what the article suggested.

      AC, because I moderated already.

      • Honestly I think I know a number of men who would pay to be filmed in some staged sex act. All it takes is one. And of course he's going to put it online.

      • People filming themselves having sex and then posting it online? That's unpossible.

        If that existed, how could you possibly sell porn, there'd be pages where you can watch people shag for free.

      • by crow ( 16139 )

        It could be a non-sexual photo of the two together. It could even be some unrelated person who took a picture where the two are seen in the background. It could also be that Facebook is lying and they are using location data or data gathered from contacts or other apps. Of course, it's not like anyone should need this reason to avoid the Facebook apps and just use the web browser.

      • Maybe Facebook noticed those two people together on multiple occasions, and at different locations. That would be evidence that they might know each other.
    • Somehow I doubt this, unless this particular user happened to have a photo snapped with an acquaintance of a client...

      Ultimately, Facebook is predicated on connections, and avoiding connections is in direct opposition to their business model. Good luck circumventing that. Even my LinkedIn account regularly gets unexpected and essentially random connections presented to me, especially for my work email which I inherited from a now departed employee who gets a lot of alumni-connected referrals from a universi

    • I think Facebook also uses location information essentially tracking your movements and suggesting people that you cross paths with on multiple occasions.

      I'm not sure about that. That was my conclusion a while back when Facebook suggested that I friend a bunch of people that I didn't know. Then I realized that a number of the people it was suggesting were people who lived in my apartment building or worked in the same building, or even people who work on the same block as I do. It was a bunch of people

  • Simple fix (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Train0987 ( 1059246 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:47AM (#55355557)

    Don't use Facebook.

    • Re:Simple fix (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:53AM (#55355613)

      That's not a fix anymore. They have managed to build profiles on almost anyone. How do they know your bank account information if you don't have a FB account? How do they know it if you do and have never used your bank account with it? This has gone beyond scary.

      • If you don't have a Facebook identity, how can they suggest friends to you and display your friendship status to others? Dumping Facebook is not 100% a fix for this privacy fiasco, but it is absolutely a necessary step.
        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          How? Purchasing datasets and mining them. That's how they connected this person to her clients. They didn't need any of their *own* data to do that.

    • by Kenja ( 541830 )
      You think you can block him? His style is stronger!
    • Yes, I agree. Facebook is a drug. It has seductive benefits, but often it is better to quit the addiction than to let it ruin your life. (I chose to leave Facebook for several reasons, and find that I can live without it. And have more hours in the day!)
    • by Teun ( 17872 )
      As you can read in a posting further down this is insufficient.

      Dense people that have you in their address list share it with Facebook and you have been assimilated...
  • but she's probably telling the truth.
  • I have no problem with people's chosen professions. Free country, free to exchange goods and services, and free to engage in known workplace risks for such, yadda yadda yadda. For something so socially stigmatized and illegal, though, it would be better to use a more secure and privacy oriented platform to connect with clients.
    • You missed the line in the summary: "Her sex-work identity is not on the social network at all".
    • Read TFS again (don't even need to read TFA, I didn't either). She only has a "private" profile. Not one of her "professional" service. Only one where she is Mrs. Normal living a normal life, with a normal job, normal friends, normal hobbies...

    • That she didn't use Facebook to connect with her clients, was a pretty big point. It says so right there in the synopsis: "Her sex-work identity is not on the social network at all"

  • by emil ( 695 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:52AM (#55355607)

    ...and this is how it knows who you associate with. In later versions of Android (and perhaps in iOS), you can deny permissions to read your contacts, but the app will likely work hard to get around that.

    If you have contacts on your phone that you don't want Facebook to know about, then you must not load their app

    - only access them through a dedicated, privacy-focused web browser (or an equivalent sandboxing app).

    I like FaceSlim on F-Droid. I would never, ever run their app. That thing is a monster.

  • this isn't new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cederic ( 9623 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:54AM (#55355633) Journal

    A decade ago Facebook sent me an email, suggesting that I create an account (as I didn't have one) and also telling me that I probably knew three different people - one that I worked with, one that I socialised with and one family member.

    None of those people had the same email address for me.

    I wonder if the UK DPA or upcoming GDPR legislation will let me force Facebook to reveal their matching algorithm - see Article 15 paragraph 1(h) of the regulation (PDF at [] )

  • The summary says that facebook won't tell us how it does this, yet the headline is

    How Facebook Outs Sex Workers

  • This sucks.

    Even though I have never had any relation with that company I've experienced similar, years ago Facebook mailed me with the sugestion to yoin people I know.

    My stupid sister and a cousin had shared their address lists with Facebook and the algorithm added 1 + 1 is me...
    At least they gave an option to opt out of further mail but I'm sure they are still following me around, even though I use plug ins to remove their spying icons from web sites.

    I'll leave further comments to my signature.
  • Location is part of the algorithm: basically Facebook knows that those 2 "accounts" were near each other for X amount of time.
  • I can think of a variety of ways Facebook could figure out who you interact with. The most obvious is that many people carry around a smartphone with the ability to track their whereabouts. It's not all that hard for a company like Facebook to notice that two people are in close proximity with some regularity if they have some tracking software installed on your smartphone or PC.

    Frankly I value my privacy too much to want to have anything to do with Facebook. I simply don't trust the company to be respon

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:05AM (#55355751)

    I come from a middle eastern Muslim country. My views about religion and other issues will surely anger people I know. To vent, I made two accounts on facebook, one for my friends, and one where I express my views including religious ones under a separate identity.

    On the 'anonymous' account, I just put my first name and at worst, extremely general hints about my life , since I assumed no one I know will see it. I used a separate, anonymous, e-mail for this account, and used to access it from a separate browser. The only link was probably my IP address / user agent, or maybe I tried to view my profile from the other account, but that's it.

    I was once chatting with a real-life Muslim friend and she started making hints about statuses I post on my other account. Nothing serious happened, since shes a terrible Muslim herself, but this could have easily put my life in danger had this been known to other people. I learned to NEVER trust facebook with my privacy ever since this happened.

  • I swear there have been multiple occasions where I was discussing buying something with my wife - never having searched for it or referred to it on any computer in any capacity - within "earshot" of my phone, and then gone into Facebook and seen targeted ads for the thing that I was discussing.
  • by drafalski ( 232178 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:05AM (#55355759) Homepage

    "People can always control who can send them friend requests by visiting their account settings," said the spokesperson. "If they select 'no one,' they won't appear in others' People You May Know."

    Um, Facebook removed the option for "no one" to send friend requests years ago. The most restrictive now is "Friends of friends".

  • In other words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:06AM (#55355765) Homepage Journal

    Stop being on Facebook.

    Except Facebook will remember you even if you delete your account.

    Except Facebook will remember you even if you have separate accounts.

    Except Facebook will find out who you are if you have friends and family on Facebook. Especially if they mention you by name in a Facebook post.

    Except Facebook is probably tracking you right now because of all those little "like" buttons you can see everywhere.

    Except Facebook... Oh, fsck it, I give up.

    Frankly, who needs the NSA when you have Facebook? Oh, wait, they are probably working together right now.

    Wasn't there a story about that creep Zuckerberg wanting to become President of the United States of Facebook?

  • by bangular ( 736791 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:08AM (#55355785)
    I remember a similar story a few months ago. A thief stole someone's phone and the perpetrator was suggested to the victim as "someone you may know." I think the consensus was, just visiting someone's facebook page pulls you into their potential network. I'm guessing she's visited her alter-ego's page at some point (and maybe some of her clients).

    The only winning move is to not play. Just get rid of facebook and install uBlock and filters that keep social media at bay.
  • it's worse... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:14AM (#55355861)

    I once tried to create an anonymous (false identity) account on facebook, which I wanted to use to access the private group of a sportsclub that insists on using facebook for sharing pictures and videos, they also use whatsapp.
    I don't want to be on facebook, because I don't trust them, so therefore I didn't use any of my know e-mail adresses or phonenumbers (I thought) to create the account.

    In the short time the account worked (and I used tor-browser to access facebook, exclusively!) facebook suggested several people whom I know in real life, but who didn't know I was on facebook or with the sportsclub. The account I created did not have a picture of me, but of a doll that didn't look at all like a human face.

    I have no clue how this can be done, but facebook has some very sneaky ways to find connections between people. This alone should be enough reason for anyone who wants to keep some social lives separate to avoid facebook altogether. And I'm sure that despite my not being on facebook, it has an entire profile of me waiting to be associated with my account, should I create one.

    Someone summarized this quite well: don't use facebook.

  • by GoRK ( 10018 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:15AM (#55355875) Homepage Journal

    Facebook makes suggestions based on correlated movements and positions. If you arrive and depart from the same location at the same time as another person a few times it may suggest them as a friend. There isn't really any mystery to this (unless you are someone like a journalist or Facebook user who never read any of the agreements you accepted).

    We could have a debate as to whether or not this should be opt-in, or legal, or whatever, but there shouldn't really be any debate that it is an effective method of determining people who might know each other, and there shouldn't be any mystery that it's done when it has all been plainly discussed before. You can at least opt out of some of it, or adjust your privacy settings to prevent it.

    Just imagine that Facebook is your mom and every time you load up the app it's like calling your mom and telling her where you are. And everyone else around you is also calling your mom and telling them they are there too, and you and everybody else are constantly calling back every 10 minutes to give her updates. Provided your mom has a lot of time on her hands and takes really good notes, pretty soon she's going to figure out who you are hanging out with.

  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @12:11PM (#55356389)

    Six or seven years ago, when I first started using Facebook, it kept suggesting a landlord I'd had five years previously as someone I might know. He was an okay guy, but we never socialized beyond pleasantries when I handed him the rent check and we had no online connections at all. I presume FB is either searching through municipal records or purchasing banking data.

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