Despite its claims that Facebook would limit how advertisers can reach its young users, the Big Tech giant has continued spying on teens to serve them personal ads, a recent report from Fairplay, Global Action Plan, and Reset Australia has discovered.
Earlier this year, Facebook announced that they were committed to limiting how their advertisers reached young users on the social media platform. However, the company continued to receive criticism for failing to halt ad targeting for teens and preventing its algorithm from tracking their likes and interests.
According to Breitbart, Facebook is now accused of "not actually making any meaningful changes to its systems and continuing to retain its systems' abilities to track and surveil children and teens in order to maximize ad engagement and boost revenue."
Critics accused Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook of failing to protect the most vulnerable users of its social media platform, who are subjected to manipulative marketing with every use. The company has also been accused of "[making] a show of removing a layer of targeting control from advertisers to imply that the company is looking out for its users."
Facebook responded to the latest research by denying that it is using the tracking data linked to user accounts of teenagers to "personalize" ads, but failed to explain why it continued to collect data. Researchers also found evidence that advertising on the platforms owned by Meta (Facebook's new company name), continues to be "optimized" for teen users using algorithms and that Meta is "using harvested information about children's online behavior to power its AI-driven ad targeting in order to continue to generate profits."
The analysis conducted by researchers showed that a privacy feature shows off-Facebook activity being captured by the platform, giving the social media network's users more transparency and control over information collected about them. A Meta spokesperson told Bloomberg Law that the data in the transparency tools are not "automatically used for ads."
"We don't use data from our advertisers' and partners' websites and apps to personalize ads to people under 18," the spokesperson underscored, explaining that the reason why this information appears in privacy control is because teen users visit sites or apps that use Facebook code or other business technologies.
Meanwhile, the coalition of advocacy groups Fairplay, Global Action Plan, and Reset Australia, denounced Facebook's continued spying on teens, writing in a letter, "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 advocacy groups called the practice "especially concerning" especially in instances where "'optimisation' might mean weight loss ads served to teens with emerging eating disorders or an ad being served when, for instance, a teen's mood suggests they are particularly vulnerable."
Rich Brooks from Flyte Media in Portland told News Center Maine that the reason why kids and teens need to be protected against Facebook's targeted ads is because "These age groups are considered to be more heavily influenced." Teens are at a stage when they are "trying to figure out who they are" and turn to social media for advice, guidance, or simply to compare themselves to their peers.
Brooks remarked, "While this isn't necessarily good or bad, the powerful algorithms of these platforms can make for serious problems."