Facebook can’t catch a break, remaining in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, unable to hide behind its new name.
The social media giant that now goes by Meta has been accused of lying, and continuing to target advertising using their personal data, and prioritising profits over the wellbeing of children.
This appears to contradict the company’s announcement that it would limit how advertisers reach kids in an apparent bid to be a better corporate citizen.
A new report produced in Australia this week suggests that the social media behemoth has been targeting children for their perceived commercial vulnerabilities.
This includes collecting information and data on children such as browsing history, mood, insecurities, peer interests and more.
The research shows conversion APIs including Facebook Pixel and app SPK – two core machine learning tools in Facebook’s ad delivery system armoury – are still active on teens’ accounts.
This means they still receive advertising personalised to their interests.
The research has been led by Elena Yi-Ching Ho and Dr Rys Farthing of Reset Australia, an organisation that works to counter digital threats to democracy as part of a global initiative.
Leave them kids alone
It polled 400 young people aged 16-17 across the nation, which found that 82 per cent of young people have been served ads so targeted to them that it made them feel uncomfortable.
It also found that 67 per cent of teens want a complete ban on this sort of surveillance advertising.
Reset Australia first revealed that Facebook was allowing advertising to target young people on age inappropriate issues back in April this year.
This included ads for gambling, extreme weight loss, alcohol and smoking.
Facebook subsequently announced that it would stop the practice, instead adopting a more precautionary approach after listening to advocates for young people.
But research published this week accuses Facebook of lying, saying it has not limited its use of surveillance advertising to teens.
Facebook is simply allowing their AI to target teens, using all the same personal data.
“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,” Dr Farthing, director of data policy for Reset Australia said.
“The only thing that has 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,” he said.
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 says it’s clear Facebook can’t be trusted to help draft a code which puts children’s interests’ first.
Data-driven advertising can be more misleading for children than traditional advertising and can increase commercial pressures leading to consumerism, disappointment and parent-child conflict, Reset Australia says.
“Given the power of their AI, this may actually be worst for children. 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,” Dr Farthing says.
The fact is that the result will be precisely the same, and Facebook knows this, he says.
The advocacy group is calling on Facebook to go on the record to end surveillance advertising.
It points out that multiple organisations around the world have passed regulations, or are in the process of enacting them, to address this.
Reset Australia accuses Facebook of putting its own interests first, saying the company is unable to act in children’s best interests.