Facebook Accidentally Outs Sex Workers’ Identities

Woman holding finger to lipsFacebook does everything it can to connect you with people it perceives to be in your social circle—even when you might not want it. That’s what happened recently to an anonymous sex worker interviewed by Gizmodo who began to see clients pop up on her personal Facebook profile’s “People You May Know” feature.

The woman, codenamed Leila by the publication, says her sex worker identity is not on Facebook at all. In fact, she uses a separate email address, phone number and name for that aspect of her life. How, then, did some of her sex work clients begin to show up on her personal Facebook profile? Somehow, the site had deduced her connection to these people—and all the while, she could have been appearing in their “suggested friends” section, too.

“The worst nightmare of sex workers is to have your real name out there, and Facebook connecting people like this is the harbinger of that nightmare,” she said. “With all the precautions we take and the different phone numbers we use, why the f**k are they showing up? How is this happening?”

As Gizmodo points out, Facebook isn’t exactly an open book when it comes to how “People You May Know” works. However, one of its few public guidelines suggests the connections come from “contacts you’ve uploaded.” Facebook has gone on the record saying it does not factor your location into the often-creepy suggestions.
While the social media giant may mean well encouraging users to forge new friendships, the site’s actions in this area can have serious—and invasive—consequences.