Protecting children from harm is a priority for all people. This is why countries have laws which ban advertising and promotions of harmful products such as alcohol to minors.
But now a new report has exposed that Facebook is not adhering to any of these laws, rules and norms. In fact the social media giant is harvesting minors’ data, profiling them for specific interest areas that relate to health harmful indyústries and selling that data to advertisers for profit.
Reset Australia released the report “Profiling Children for Advertising: Facebook’s Monetisation of Young People’s Personal Data“.
The report provides detailed insights into the practice of Facebook, including these key facts:
- Facebook uses personal data collected about young people aged 13 to 18 years to profile them across a range of categories. Many of these profiles are created using highly sensitive data, that leaves young people vulnerable to advertisers. For example, Facebook uses data it collects about minors to create profiles of young people with harmful or risky interests, such as 13 to 17-year olds interested in alcohol.
Reaching a thousand young people profiled as interested in alcohol will only cost advertisers around $3.03.
- Facebook is not especially careful about what the tech giant will allow advertising profiles to be used for.
Reset Australia did an experiment to check if Facebook would treat data from minors differently compared to data from adults. They created a fake account, “Ozzie News Network” and created and submitted for Facebook approval, advertisements on harmful products, including alcohol, which target minors. Facebook approved most of these advertisements. Reset Australia did not run the advertisements but Facebook did approve them.
What we found was there was no difference in the way they were treating teenager’s data,” said Chris Cooper, executive director of Reset Australia, as per ABC News.
It enabled advertisers to buy access to those profiles and target teenagers around very questionable interest areas such as gambling, smoking, alcohol and even their dating status.
It’s shocking and concerning.”Chris Cooper, executive director, Reset Australia
Young people and their parents do not want to be targeted with harmful alcohol ads
In this study young people were asked about their opinion regarding how Facebook uses their data through a survey of 400 adolescents aged 16 and 17 years who use Facebook or Instagram. The study found:
- 77.8% of youth respondents were concerned about the volume of data collected about them and what Facebook ‘knows’ about them.
- Even more than the data collection itself they were extremely concerned about the advertising profiles Facebook is creating about them.
- About two thirds of the young people disapproved of being profiled for commercial advertising purposes.
I think it’s quite shocking that Facebook and other social media platforms are putting prices on our personal information, it’s quite alarming,” said Caitlin La, year 11 student, as per ABC News.Caitlin La, year 11 student
Previous research has shown that 65% of parents are uncomfortable with businesses targeting ads to children based on information they have obtained by tracking a child online (‘profiling for advertising purposes’).
Need for better protection of children and adolescents in digital media
Australia needs stronger data protection laws to safeguard minors from harmful advertising. Reset Australia is calling for the introduction of a data code for children and young people under 18-years of age to ensure that minors’ data are not used for harmful advertising. This would restrict surveillance, tracking and targeting of children’s data for commercial purposes. A similar data code has already been passed in the UK and is underway in Ireland.
Comprehensive alcohol marketing regulation are needed in Australia to protect children from being exposed to alcohol ads everywhere. This has long been a problem for Australia since alcohol advertising is only self-regulated in the country by the alcohol industry themselves.
Communities, parents and others have long been calling for government regulations on alcohol marketing because the self-regulation system continues to fail. For example, a recent report by VicHealth, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) uncovered how widespread targeted marketing of harmful products to Australian children is in the country. This report found that 940,000 children were profiled as “interested in alcohol” by Facebook in 2018.
As per Facebook they have “age restriction tools” to protect minors from harmful ads. This is the same as self regulation since it is up to the advertiser to set the age, and the advertisers of harmful products are simply expected to not advertise to minors. The alcohol industry’s self-regulation failure shows that if the industry is given a choice of profit or protecting health they will choose profit. This is why communities call on the the government to take action to protect Australian children from harmful advertising on digital media.