Australian big tech watchdog group calls out Facebook for enabling ‘risky’ ads for alcohol, adult dating targeted at TEEN users

An Australian tech watchdog group has accused Facebook of harvesting the personal data of teenage users who can then be served targeted ads promoting alcohol, smoking, gambling, vaping, online dating sites and extreme weight loss.

In a new report, Reset Australia said that the social media giant creates profiles of teens as young as 13 who express “age-inappropriate, harmful or risky” interests, and allows businesses to advertise to them for as low as AU$3.

Last year, the group, which advocates for more stringent digital policies, created a fake Facebook page and advertising account, titled ‘Ozzie news network’, to test what ad options the platform would offer through its ‘Ads Manager’ tool.

While Facebook does not permit age-inappropriate ads for underage users, Reset Australia identified a “loophole” – by refining their advertising according to interests and making them not explicitly about the unallowed subject material.

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Just as for those aged 18 and above, they were then able to advertise to teens under 18 – an estimated total reach of 740,000 children aged between 13 and 17 across Australia – who were determined by the site to have an interest in alcohol, smoking and vaping, adult dating services, gambling, among other things.

The group prepared a number of “dubious ads” targeting those 13- to 17-year-olds that “reinforced body image ideals,” encouraged “mobile-game-style gambling,” and prodded young girls to “connect and chat” with wealthy men.

These ads – tailored to teens by demographic and interest – were approved by Facebook to run as Instagram Stories, but not paid for or published.

As for the expenses involved, the report noted that to advertise to the 52,000 teens who expressed interest in alcohol would cost AU$3.03 (per 1,000 people), while reaching 14,000 teens interested in gambling would cost AU$11.24 (per 1,000), and to the fewer than 1,000 teens interested in either cigarettes or e-cigarettes would cost AU$138.50 and AU$210.97 respectively.

Facebook appears to use teenagers’ data in the same way as adults,” Chris Cooper, the executive director of Reset Australia, told the Guardian, adding that the report’s findings “open a can of worms about just how Facebook profits from underage data, and exactly what protection they have against inappropriate targeting.”

According to a Facebook spokesperson, the company has “significant measures in place,” including “automated systems and human reviewers” to check every ad “before and after” it goes out to ensure it is compliant with local laws.

Anyone advertising on our platforms must comply with our policies along with all local laws and codes, such as those restricting the advertising of alcohol to minors in Australia,” the spokesperson told the paper. “To support this, we also have age restriction tools that all businesses can implement on their accounts themselves to control who sees their content.”

Reset Australia has recommended that the Australian government implement a data privacy code to regulate how sensitive information about underage users’ online behavior can be collected and used, noting that there should be “expressed consent” from both children and their guardians, “transparency and accountability” over how the data is used, and limitations on what is deemed “necessary data.”

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Source:RT World News

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