Facebook Slammed For Teen Ad Targeting

John Lister's picture

A campaign group claims Facebook lets users target ads at children based on interests such as smoking, drinking alcohol and gambling. Facebook says it has adequate measures to find and block such ads both before and after publication.

The claims come from Reset Australia, which says it ran an experiment posing as the fictional "Ozzie News Network." It set up an advertising account on Facebook to see what options were available.

In theory, Facebook has an outright ban on advertising adult topics such as alcohol to under 18s. Reset Australia says this failed in two ways: it was able to target under 18s using adult interests, and Facebook's automated vetting didn't pick up proposed ads that were clearly offering adult products and services.

Gambling And Smoking Targeted

The experiment is based on the way that Facebook lets advertisers target particular audiences including by interest. This isn't simply based on users ticking a box to explicitly state their interests, but also from Facebook deducing interests based on posts, "likes" and other activity on the site.

Reset Australia says it was initially offered the ability to reach up to 740,000 users in the country aged under-18. However, it was then able to filter down and target under-18s in a range of interest categories including alcohol, dating, gambling, extreme weight loss and smoking.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the costs offered for ads were higher when the audience was smaller. For example, Facebook offered an ad reaching 52,000 teens interest in alcohol for just $3.03 while reaching only 14,000 interested in gambling would cost $11.24. That may be a supply and demand issue, or it could reflect the likelihood that the smaller audience offered more confidence that individual users really were possible customers.

Raid Your Parents' Booze

After selecting the audiences, Reset Australia submitted a series of ads for approval. These included an ad with a picture of dice and a poker chip aimed at those interested in gambling; an ad suggesting female under-18s interested in online dating could "Find your gentleman now"; an ad aimed at those interested in alcohol that explicitly offered a "Spicy Cocktail Recipe using only what you can find in your parents liquor cabinet."

Although it received approval for the ads, the group didn't go ahead with publishing them. (Source: reset.tech)

Facebook responded saying "We have significant measures in place to review all ads before and after they run, including automated systems and human reviewers." (Source: theguardian.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think Facebook does enough to vet ads? Should it assign adult "interests" to users aged under 18? Should it ban all targeted ads aimed at users under 18?

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