Facebook’s ‘People You May Know’ feature is outing sex workers

Facebook’s uncanny ability to connect acquaintances — even when they’d rather not be noticed — is an issue sex workers know all too well, according to a new report from Gizmodo.

It highlights the issue many in the sex industry run into when trying to balance their professional and personal lives. A sex worker who spoke to reporter Kashmir Hill under the pseudonym “Leila” said she goes to great lengths to separate her work account from her private account — with separate emails, phone numbers and names designated to each.

Despite these measures, Leila said she was horrified to see her bland personal profile being recommended to her clients via Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature. She said the violation of privacy went both ways — for her and her customers.

“It’s not just sex workers who are careful to shield their identities,” Leila told Gizmodo.  “The people who hire sex workers are also very concerned with anonymity so they’re using alternative emails and alternative names. And sometimes they have phones that they only use for this, for hiring women. You have two ends of people using heightened security, because neither end wants their identity being revealed. And they’re having their real names connected on Facebook.”

Leila, according to the report, wasn’t the only one outed. Ela Darling, a manager at CAM4, a porn virtual reality site, said she routinely scanned Facebook to make sure her work profile wasn’t being recommended to family members.

Darling took similar measures in defending her identity, but it was in vain. After noticing her porn profile was being linked to her private account, she deleted the latter.  “Facebook isn’t a luxury,” Darling told Gizmodo. “It’s a utility in our lives. For something that big to be so secretive and powerful in how it accumulates your information is unnerving.”

The Gizmodo report said it’s a “mystery” how the lines between private and public accounts of sex workers are being blurred. But the social network has more than 100 inputs that go into its “People You May Know” recommendations. A Facebook help page said part of this secret sauce is mutual friends, shared networks or groups, and contacts. Its strong facial recognition technology could also factor into connecting accounts, though Facebook didn’t immediately respond to TheWrap’s request to confirm it. With two billion users and counting, it’ll be imperative for Facebook to continue refining its discovery options if it’s to retain user trust. An all-encompassing opt out from PYMK appears to be a necessary step. Read the full feature for an explainer on how to circumvent PYMK (but also never receive friend requests). 

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Facebook is killing off its users
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Facebook is killing off its users
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