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Facebook exposed for using minors’ data for targeted ads

Jessica Yun
·3-min read
(Source: Getty, Reset Australia)
(Source: Getty, Reset Australia)

Facebook allows teenagers’ profile data to be collected and used for targeted ads about gambling, cigarettes and alcohol, a new report has found.

In its new report, Profiling Children for Advertising, lobby group Reset Australia called for greater regulation to protect minors, revealing Facebook is collecting data on underage users aged 13-18 and leaving them exposed to inappropriate advertising.

“For example, Facebook uses data it collects about underage users to create profiles of young people with harmful or risky interests such as 13-17 year olds interested in smoking, gambling, alcohol or extreme weight loss. This sort or profiling is part of Facebook’s day-to-day business model,” the report said.

‘Profiles for sale’

(Source: Reset Australia)
(Source: Reset Australia)

“Age-inappropriate, harmful or risky”

Reset Australia created a fake ad campaign to find out what the social media platform would allow profiles to be used for, and discovered that Facebook was collecting and using underage people’s data in the same way as adults.

Most of the fake advertisements that Reset Australia created, which were never shown, were approved for publishing.

“We found we were able to buy access to young people profiled as having age-inappropriate, harmful or risky interests," the report said.

(Source: Reset Australia)
(Source: Reset Australia)
(Source: Reset Australia)
(Source: Reset Australia)

“It was clear Facebook are not careful what they will sell access to young people’s profiles for.”

Reset Australia also surveyed 400 16- and 17-year-old Facebook and Instagram users, and a majority (77.8 per cent) of respondents said they were some level of concerned about the volume and type of data that was being collected about them online.

The young respondents were most concerned about social media platforms knowing their location or where they went to school in addition to Facebook profiling them for advertising purposes.

The users used phrases such as feeling “extremely violated”, “worried and anxious”, “creepy”, “yuck” and “used” to describe how they felt about being profiled.

(Source: Reset Australia)
(Source: Reset Australia)

Reset Australia said this use of data was “out of step with community expectations” and called for a regulatory code to govern how childrens’ and young people’s data was being collected and used.

“The granular level of information that is tracked about young people online is unprecedented. Facebook is able to determine where a young person goes to school, where they live, and if they are interested in extreme weight loss, gambling or alcohol,” the report said.

“Some of what they know is extremely sensitive data that should be treated with care. But instead, it is packaged up into profiles for commercial advertising purposes.

“This sort of profiling creates an online experience where advertisers are allowed to target potentially vulnerable young people for commercial gain, and places huge power in the hands of unknown advertisers.”

A regulatory code must put childrens’ best interests at the centre of decision-making about data, allow young users to have control over their data through express consent, be transparent about how their data is being processed, Reset Australia said.

“Other countries have implemented or are proposing similar codes already, including the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code, and Ireland’s Fundamentals for a Child-Oriented Approach to Data Processing.

“Australia’s young people deserve the same, if not better, protections.”

Yahoo Finance has contacted Communications Minister Paul Fletcher for comment.

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