Facebook caught serving teens 'stalker ads'

Wednesday, 17 November, 2021

Facebook caught serving teens 'stalker ads'

According to Reset Australia, Facebook has not limited its use of surveillance advertising directed at teenagers.

This is despite the fact that the online platform had announced in July 2021 that it would stop the practice.

In April, a report by Reset Australia showed how Facebook allowed advertisers to target young people on age-inappropriate interests, including gambling, extreme weight loss, alcohol and smoking. The platform subsequently announced that it had adopted a more “precautionary” approach after listening to advocates for young people.

However, new research led by Elena Yi-Ching Ho and Dr Rys Farthing of Reset Australia shows Facebook has not limited the use of surveillance advertising for teens. Facebook is simply allowing its AI to target teens, using all the same personal data.

“The only thing that’s changed is that advertisers themselves are no longer able to specify that they want to target children interested in weight loss, for example, but Facebook’s AI will do that for them instead,” said Dr Rys Farthing, Reset Australia’s director of data policy.

“Given the power of their AI, this may actually be worse for children. The result will be precisely the same and Facebook knows this. For example, if you’re an energy drinks company wanting to target stressed out students, you can’t ask Facebook explicitly to find them, but you can trust their AI ad delivery system will.

“Far from changing their systems to improve things for children, Facebook has yet again put its own interests first. They’re just using the same data to feed their algorithms. They are unable to act in children’s best interests.”

Reset Australia’s new research shows conversion APIs including Facebook Pixel and app SPK — two cornerstones of Facebook’s machine learning Ad Delivery system — are still active on teens’ accounts, meaning they still receive advertising personalised to their interests.

“This is hardly a precautionary approach to advertising for children. Instead it means the most private, intimate details of young people are still being harvested to fuel Facebook’s intrusive advertising system. All they’ve changed is the user-facing interface for advertisers, but not changed their system at all,” Farthing said.

“Far from changing their systems to improve things for children, Facebook have prioritised their profits.”

The new research comes after the federal government’s privacy review announced plans for an industry-drafted code that better protects children’s data rights. Reset Australia said it is now clear Facebook cannot be trusted to help draft a code which puts children’s interests first.

“Facebook has been caught red-handed using children’s data to target them with ads that they will be vulnerable to. They can’t be trusted to draft a code designed to protect children and their data,” Farthing said.

Recent polling conducted by YouGov, on behalf of Reset Australia, surveyed 400 young people aged 16–17 across Australia. It found that 82% of young people have been served ads so targeted it made them feel uncomfortable, and that 67% of teenagers wanted a complete ban on this sort of surveillance advertising.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/REDPIXEL

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