Revealed: Facebook’s bait and switch on surveillance advertising to children

PR moves won’t fix what’s wrong with Facebook.
Teen looks at phone as a pop up for a diet add saying "Tips for a Flirty Girl Fall" come up.

Back in July, Facebook announced that it would only allow advertisers to use age, gender and location to target ads to minors under 18. This news came as a response to sustained pressure from youth advocates like us here at Fairplay, and we were excited to see these changes implemented. By limiting the types of information advertisers could use to target children, this new policy would be a huge first step in protecting kids from harmful surveillance advertising on Instagram and Facebook. Or, so we thought.

New research from Fairplay, Reset Australia, and Global Action Plan shows that while Facebook says it will no longer allow advertisers to selectively target teenagers, it appears Facebook itself continues to target teens, only now with the power of AI! 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 certain ad and when. This means that, for example, teen girls predisposed to eating disorders can still be targeted with weight loss ads, or children feeling insecure can be targeted with clothing or cosmetic ads.

So, Fairplay is taking a stand. We are leading an international coalition of 47 advocates in privacy, public health, and child development to urge Facebook to reveal the full details of how teens receive optimized, targeted ads, and to commit to ending this practice altogether. 

This is yet another chapter in Facebook’s long history of targeting children and teens and using their sensitive data to make a profit at the expense of their wellbeing. In the months since Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files have revealed just how far Facebook is willing to profit off of teens, the company still has not made any substantive commitment to protecting kids.  This simply cannot stand. 

We’ll continue to provide updates on Facebook’s misleading marketing claims and what we’re doing to hold them accountable. And we won’t stop until Facebook commits to ending its creepy surveillance ads to young people altogether. Stay tuned!

And, help us spread the word about Facebook’s deceit. Share this blog with a friend today!