<p>A demonstrator poses with an installation depicting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surfing on a wave of cash and surrounded by distressed teenagers, during a protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in central London on October 25, 2021</p>

A demonstrator poses with an installation depicting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surfing on a wave of cash and surrounded by distressed teenagers, during a protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in central London on October 25, 2021

Facebook targets children with ‘surveillance ads’, research claims

Practice is ‘especially concerning’ as targeting may include weight loss ads served to teens with emerging eating disorders

Anthony Cuthbertson
Tuesday 16 November 2021 12:20
Comments

Facebook is still harvesting children’s personal data and targeting teens with “surveillance advertising” despite pledging to end the practice earlier this year, according to new research.

In July, Facebook announced that it would only allow advertisers to target ads to people under 18 based on their age, gender and location. In September, the firm’s global head of safety Antigone Davis reaffirmed this when testifying in front of the US Senate.

“We have very limited advertising to young people,” she said. “You can only actually now target a young person based on their gender, age, or location.”

The new revelations suggest Facebook no longer allows advertisers to directly target children but instead uses data from their online behaviour to power an AI “Delivery System” to optimise targeted ads to them.

“Replacing ‘targeting selected by advertisers’ with ‘optimisation selected by a machine learning delivery system’ does not represent a demonstrable improvement for children, despite Facebook’s claims in July,” an international coalition of civil liberties and child protection organisations wrote in an open letter to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday.

“Facebook is still using the vast amount of data it collects about young people in order to determine which children are most likely to be vulnerable to a given ad.”

The open letter stated that the practice was especially concerning as the optimised targeting may include things like weight loss ads served to teens with emerging eating disorders.

“Far from changing their systems to improve things for children, Facebook has yet again put their interests first, unleashed their algorithms and may have actually made things worse for children,” said Dr Rys Farthing, director of children’s policy at digital threat organisation Reset Australia, who led the research. “They seem unable to act in children’s best interests.”

Oliver Hayes, policy and campaigns lead at Global Action Plan, added: “It is deeply cynical to trumpet the end of targeted ads to kids, all the while harvesting teens’ data to fuel powerful ‘optimised’ ads delivered by AI.

“Surveillance ads to kids are invasive, manipulative, and unpopular. Clearly, Facebook knew as much when it announced its July changes. But their attempt to score a PR win while continuing to spy on kids for profit has now been called out.”

Facebook responded to the research and open letter by claiming the data from teen users appears in its transparency tools because they visit sites and apps that use the tools.

“It’s wrong to say that because we show data in our transparency tools it’s automatically used for ads,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Independent.

“We don’t use data from our advertisers’ and partners’ websites and apps to personalise ads to people under 18. The reason this information shows up in our transparency tools is because teens visit sites or apps that use our business tools. We want to provide transparency into the data we receive, even if it’s not used for ads personalization.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in