A recent article in The Independent newspaper by Andrew Griffin highlights that Facebook is almost certainly tracking people using its rainbow picture tool, which enables users to change their profile picture to rainbow coloured in support of same-sex marriage.
In using the tool many users are probably not aware that they are providing demographic data to Facebook which could be used to target advertising, or be supplied to third parties. Just as many are not aware that the Facebook “pay with data” financial model, means that all information provided to the site may potentially be used for commercial purposes. It should also be noted that although Facebook has stated that the information gathered by the tool will not be used for serving advertising, the site is notorious for its ever-changing privacy model, so the assurance probably needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Interestingly, social scientists have already picked up on what a gold mine the data provided by the rainbow tool might be – see the article here in Psychology Today.
Unfortunately, there is another perhaps more sinister dimension to the use of such a tool, in that it allows demographic profiling of individuals by Governments, security and private organisations based on a photograph alone, as people using the tool will be indicating that they have a particular political persuasion or world view. This may not be a problem for some people, but could be if you live a repressive regime or want employment in a particular industry, or with a sensitive employer.