Facebook is facing backlash for reportedly targeting younger users when they were emotionally vulnerable and insecure.
In a surprising form of privacy invasion, a new report details how Facebook uses sophisticated algorithms to determine the moods of its users as young as 14 years. This algorithm aids the social networking site determine the adverts it can target toward them, depending on their mood.
The Australian saw a 23-page secret document marked “Confidential: Internal Only” and spilled the beans. Top Facebook Australia executives David Fernandez and Andy Sinn reportedly created the secret document.
This propensity to target users when they are emotionally vulnerable, raises questions about Facebook’s business ethics.
What The Document Reveals
Facebook possesses sophisticated algorithms that can determine human emotion or state of mind. However, the document states that these algorithms are used to sense a user’s mood from their posts. The advertisers on the platform use the results to target products based on the emotional state of the particular user.
In fact, Facebook can detect multiple different moods of its users, including “worthless,” “insecure,” “defeated,” “anxious,” “silly,” “useless,” “stupid,” “overwhelmed,” “stressed,” and “a failure.”
The document also reveals that the system the company employs lays more stress on discovering when young users feel anxious about looking good and having a fit body. For example, this information would help advertisers target them at that juncture with fitness-related products.
“In a move that raises profound ethical questions about Facebook’s use of covert surveillance, the document lays out how the world’s biggest social network is gathering psychological insights on 6.4 million “high schoolers”, “tertiary students”, and “young Australians and New Zealanders,” The Australian notes in the report.
What Does Facebook Say?
After the document’s details were revealed, the publication reached out to Facebook Australia for a response regarding the use of such methods for advertising purposes. The social media company apologized for “the process failure” and promised it would improve the oversight.
The publication also questioned the company officials whether similar algorithms were active in other countries apart from New Zealand and Australia, but did not receive an answer.
In Australia, collecting personal data of anyone aged 14 or under without the express permission of the parents or guardians is a punishable offence. In the United States, the same rule applies to all children aged 13 or under.
While it is unsurprising that Facebook employs such means to maximize the efficiency of advertising, what is shocking though is that it maintains the same practice for minors. This is the first time that Facebook has admitted to maintaining a database of all its underage users.