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Facebook removes 'treason' as keyword for users' interests

The ad interest tag reportedly could have exposed 65,000 Russian users to the Russian authorities.


Most people probably wouldn't want to have the word "treason" associated with them. Now they won't have to worry about Facebook suggesting they are traitors.

The tech giant said on Wednesday it had removed "treason" from a list of user interest categories that advertisers can target. The removal followed a report by DR, a Danish media outlet, noting the category's existence, according to Reuters

The DR article detailed experts' concerns about the tag because it suggested antigovernment interests and could be used to identify potential dissidents. The term had been showing up based on some people's online activities.

Russian authorities, for instance, could have used the keyword to identify 65,000 Russian Facebook users who are identified as being interested in "treason," according to DR.

Facebook confirmed that it had removed the category, which it had initially included because of history buffs, after the DR report.

"Treason' was included as a category given its historical significance," Joe Osborne, a Facebook representative, said in an email. "Given it's an illegal activity, we've removed it as an interest category."

Osborne said businesses get no personally identifying information about users.

Facebook sells ads that target groups of users. It does this by looking at the topics you discuss, websites you visit and apps you use, according to DR. It then categorizes your interests, which are oftenas innocuous as "movies" or "sports." 

Last year, however, Facebook stirred controversy when tags like "Jew Hater" were found. Facebook subsequently removed those anti-Semitic advertiser categories.

The social media platform has been under fire for data breaches, misinformation and its business model. The company just received a preliminary fine of 500,000 pounds ($664,000) from the UK Information Commissioner's Office on Tuesday over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

First published July 11, 11:14 a.m. PT
Update, 11:31 a.m.: Adds Facebook comment.

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