Facebook still harvesting teen data to fuel ads, warns research


(IANS) Despite announcing changes to its advertising rules for children in July this year, Facebook (now called Meta) is still tracking and harvesting children’s personal data to fuel their advertising delivery system, a new research has shown.

The only difference is that the kids’ targeting by Facebook is ‘optimised’ by a highly-trained artificial intelligence (AI) ‘Delivery System’, according to a new report by non-profits Fairplay, Global Action Plan and Reset Australia.

“The replacement of targeting ‘selected by advertisers’ with targeting ‘selected by an AI delivery system’ does not represent a demonstrable improvement for children in the way that Facebook characterised in their announcement and reiterated at a US Senate committee hearing,” the report mentioned.

“Given the predictive power of AI, this system may in fact be worse for children,” the researchers argued.

On July 27, Facebook announced changes to its advertising rules for children, claiming to have ‘heard from youth advocates’ about these concerns. Facebook stated that “we agree with them, which is why we’re taking a more precautionary approach in how advertisers can reach young people”.

This precautionary approach meant “that previously available targeting options, like those based on interests or on their activity on other apps and websites, will no longer be available to the advertisers”.

The researchers said that they are calling on Facebook to go on record to correct its claims, and end surveillance advertising for children and teens across all its platforms.

“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, all with associated consequences for mental health and wellbeing,” they argued.

One estimate suggests that by the time a child turns 13, advertisers already hold over 72 million data points about him/her, and the surveillance advertising industry for children is worth in excess of $1 billion.

Facebook has faced strong international criticism for its surveillance advertising practices for children. Earlier this year, youth advocates in Australia and the US had outlined that Facebook’s targeting processes allowed advertisers to target children interested in alcohol, gambling and weight loss.

Facebook-owned Instagram had said last month that it would soon roll out two new tools to safeguard teenagers from harmful content, after whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the US Congress that Instagram can have a negative effect on the mental health of teenagers.

The researchers stressed that Facebook’s ad delivery system continues to harvest teen data, for the sole purpose of serving them surveillance advertising, with all the associated concerns.

“Facebook must provide more transparency about the impacts of its recent rule changes in advertising to teens, and clarify if this is an improvement for children. It appears that young people’s personal data is still being harvested to deliver them a stream of even more personalised advertising with all of the associated risks,” the research team noted.

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