Facebook is getting a lot of flak in Australia after researchers allege that the social media giant is tracking the behaviour of Australian teens and then selling their profiles to advertisers who are pushing gambling and alcohol to them.

While Facebook’s general practice of letting advertisers target specific users is not a problem, the fact that they are selling the profiles of underage individuals to vendors that promote gambling, alcohol and vaping products is creating quite a controversy down under.

The study was carried out by Reset Australia who set up test campaigns to see what Facebook was offering its teen audience when it came to ads.

They then compared the results to what adults were viewing in terms of Facebook ads.

What the study revealed was that there was minimal difference in what the two demographics received. The only addition was that Facebook was giving them the chance to target users as young as 13 and that the targeting could be based on interests like gambling or smoking. This was done in batches and only cost advertisers a fraction to reach this audience. Reset Australia said the price for targeting a thousand children interested in drinking alcohol was just $3.03.

The problem runs a lot deeper as the content that advertisers could send these underage individuals was very inappropriate. Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper said Australians need to be fully aware of what it means when Facebook asks them for permission to sell their data. Cooper said Facebook users are aware that the social media giant users their profiles but does not fully understand the consequences of agreeing to Facebook’s policies.

This is not the first time that Facebook has been caught advertising to minors. In 2017, leaked Facebook documents revealed that the social media platform was allowing advertisers to target 14-year-olds that felt insecure. Facebook apologized for this at the time and promised to investigate.

Australian Must Amend Advertising Laws

Cooper believes that this targeting of children is simply a symptom of the company’s business model of selling targeted ads to various audiences. As long as it is profitable, Facebook and other companies with the same business model will keep doing it. Reset Australia is pushing for harsher and stricter laws to keep them in check.

The UK and Ireland have taken steps to protect children’s data and the ads that they are exposed to but Australia’s online legislation is more focused on cyber bullying and content removal than targeted advertising towards minors.

Apr 30, 2021 by Ella McDonald

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