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Facebook and Instagram collecting browser data from minors, says research

Facebook and Instagram collecting browser data from minors, says research

Researchers from activist groups Global Action Plan, Reset Australia, and Fairplay, however, found that Facebook and Instagram are still making use of tracking software known as conversion application programming interfaces (APIs).

(Picture: Reuters) (Picture: Reuters)
Story highlights
  • Facebook and Instagram ad delivery systems continue to harvest teen data, as per research.
  • Using the APIs, the researchers were able to examine the data acquired by the two networks from their minor users by creating three fake accounts for minors.
  • On July 27, Facebook announced changes to its advertising rules for children, claiming to have heard from youth advocates about these concerns.

Facebook and Instagram ad delivery systems continue to harvest teen data, for the sole purpose of serving them surveillance advertising, a new research has found. Instagram had recently noted that it would soon roll out two new tools to safeguard teenagers from harmful content after whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the US Congress that Instagram can have a negative effect on the mental health of teenagers.

On July 27, Facebook announced changes to its advertising rules for children, claiming to have heard from youth advocates about these concerns. Facebook stated that "we agree with them, which is why we're taking a more precautionary approach in how advertisers can reach young people". Researchers from activist groups Global Action Plan, Reset Australia, and Fairplay, however, found that Facebook and Instagram are still making use of tracking software known as conversion application programming interfaces (APIs). According to the research, the APIs gather and collate the web browsing data of minors, keeping track of what websites they visit, and their actions.

"Facebook can collect data from other browser tabs and pages that children open, and harvest information like which buttons they click on, which terms they search or products they purchase or put in their basket ('conversions'). There is no reason to store this sort of conversion data, except to fuel the ad delivery system," said the report.

Using these APIs, the researchers were able to examine the data acquired by the two networks from their minor users by creating three fake accounts for minors. A group of 44 advocacy organisations has now written to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Meta, requesting that all data collection practises on minor users be discontinued.

"It's wrong to say that because we show data in our transparency tools it's automatically used for ads. We don't use data from our advertisers' and partners' websites and apps to personalise ads to people under 18. The reason this information shows up in our transparency tools is because teens visit sites or apps that use our business tools. We want to provide transparency into the data we receive, even if it's not used for ads personalisation," a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.

"Replacing 'targeting selected by advertisers' with 'optimisation selected by a machine learning delivery system' does not represent a demonstrable improvement for children, despite Facebook's claims in July. 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 given ad," the research report had stated.

The research team noted that Facebook must provide more transparency about the impacts of its recent rule changes in advertising to teens, and clarify if this is an improvement for children. "It appears that young people`s personal data is still being harvested to deliver them a stream of even more personalised advertising with all of the associated risks," the research team noted.