Facebook used algorithms to collect data on 6.4m Australian children under the age of 14, based on their emotional state for targeted advertising, The Australian reports.
Facebook’s algorithms targeted emotional states like “stressed,” “defeated,” “overwhelmed,” and “useless” as these young minds were easy targets of advertising.
Such vulnerable children were located via their pictures, posts and reactions as they were considered ripe for needing a confidence boost. Facebook has accepted the allegations and is terming use of the algorithm as an ‘oversight.’
“Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state. The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook. Facebook has an established process to review the research we perform. This research did not follow that process, and we are reviewing the details to correct the oversight,” said a Facebook spokesperson.
Alarmingly, the document, prepared by two Australian employees at Facebook, was marked “Confidential: Internal Only” and is alleged to be in violation of the Australian Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children. The code makes it mandatory for children to “obtain a parent or guardian’s express consent prior to engaging in any activity that will result in the collection or disclosure of personal information.”
Facebook has previously been accused of using data-mining algorithms to collect user information and passing them on to marketers and advertisers. Last year, the social media giant received a rap from the Information Commissioner’s Office after it announced the controversial ‘WhatsApp data sharing plan.’ Through this plan, Facebook intended to harvest data from its messaging app and share it with its social network for advertising and product improvement purposes.
“I had concerns that consumers weren’t being properly protected, and it’s fair to say the enquiries my team have made haven’t changed that view. I don’t think users have been given enough information about what Facebook plans to do with their information, and I don’t think WhatsApp has got valid consent from users to share the information. I also believe users should be given ongoing control over how their information is used, not just a 30-day window,” said Elizabeth Denham, the then Information Commissioner.