Teens target of Facebook formula

Article by David Swan /
The Australian /
February 1, 2019 /
Click here to view original /

Teenagers and their parents need to be aware just how much Facebook is targeting them and selling their data, a child psychologist is warning.

It comes as Facebook declared its research program, in which it paid teens as young as 13 for their personal data, did not operate in Australia.

Dubbed “Project Atlas”, the research program gave Facebook unfettered access to user data including web activity, private messages, internet searches, emails and shopping in exchange for $US20 a month.

Participants discovered the opportunity via Snapchat and Insta­gram advertisements and underage participants were required to get parental consent, according to tech blog TechCrunch.

Facebook would then effectively open and read every message sent and received by the participants, and even ask them for screenshots of their Amazon receipts.

The program goes to the heart of Facebook’s business model, which offers users a “free” service in exchange for collecting our data and serving us advertising.

Facebook has not said what it was doing with the data, or to whom it was selling it.

Neither of Lindy Goodman’s 12-year-old daughters are allow­ed on social media because of her concerns about their privacy.

“I told my girls you can have a phone but you can’t have Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook,” she said. “They have their iPads which they use for school but I have rules about when they can use it and if they break those rules they are not allowed to use it on the weekend.” Ms Goodman said she was concerned about how Facebook might use her children’s data when they did start to use social media.

“I always say to them whatever messages you sent to your friends are there forever; you think you delete it (but) it’s still there and anyone can find it, so be very careful of what you say and do.” Lauren Rosewarne, a social scientist at the University of Melbourne, told The Australian that understanding teen behaviour online was extremely valuable to Facebook because the data could then be sold to advertisers.

“Knowing how teens use the platform including what they click on, how their attention is held and directed, is useful in order to making tailored appeals to them,” Dr Rosewarne said.

“Teens exist as consumers now … They will be the big consumers of tomorrow. “Knowing how they use Facebook and the internet more broadly makes their data extremely valuable to Facebook and, notably, to its advertisers.” Facebook’s Australian arm told The Australian the program was run only in the US and India.

“Key facts about this market research program are being ignored,” a Facebook spokesman said. “Despite early reports, there was nothing ‘secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate.

“Less than 5 per cent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens, all of them with signed parental consent forms.” Australia has about 18 million active social media users, representing some 72 per cent of the population.