With regards to leaked confidential documents, Facebook has today been accused of secretly employing ad targeting techniques that enabled advertisers to openly exploit the emotional state of the user community. This was being used to target advertising campaigns towards young people as young as 14-years old, reports The Australian.
The 23-page document, which carries a confidential tag, has somehow made its way out of Facebook’s Australian offices. It contains information on how the social media behemoth used specific algorithms to determine and allow advertisers to target their campaigns towards moments when young people need a confidence boost. The tactics we’ll describe underneath violate the Australian Code for Advertising and Marketing Communications to Children guidelines.
This ’embarrassing’ ad targeting strategy is said to have been prepared by two top Australian Facebook executives, namely Andy Sinn and David Fernandez. They collected a treasure trove of data such as — posts, pictures, reactions, shares, as well as comments among other things, of 6.4 million students and young [individuals] in the workforce.
This collected data coupled with the algorithms described in the documents enabled Facebook to estimate the emotional state of the users in real-time. This means the social media giant could detect how an individual (specifically a teenager) was feeling — described through a set of words in the confidential document. These include words like — worthless, insecure, defeated, anxious, silly, useless, stupid, overwhelmed, stressed, and a failure.
All the info about their emotional state was then passed on to advertisers who could target campaigns based on the nature of a young teen’s recent post on Facebook. Their research data is also said to include moments which appear in a person’s life at one stage or the other — when you’re interested in looking good and body confidence or working out and losing weight.
While we’ve contacted Facebook for more information about this document, The Australian reports that the social media giant has already been made aware of the same. The social media giant has acknowledged the existence of the confidential document and also apologized for its oversight in the internal review process involved with each research published by individuals at the company.
Continuing along the same lines, the spokesperson adds,
We have opened an investigation to understand the process failure and improve our oversight. We will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate.
Further, it has denied outright denied that the algorithm and research described in the document was used for targeting ads towards young children in Australia. It did not specify if the same process was being employed in other regions across the globe or not. The Facebook spokesperson has further clarified:
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. It was never used to target ads and was based on data that was anonymous and aggregated.
We cannot debate the existence of such algorithms or tools which mine the communities’ activity on Facebook because they actually exist. They usually operate within the confines of law and are the basis for revenue generation for several online businesses. There is no doubt that the social media giant is even analyzing information such as your relationship status, location, friends count and login frequency. And this wouldn’t be the first time such a report about Facebook’s practices has surfaced on the interwebs.
Facebook has previously also been accused of using tools to guess the user’s ethnic affinity and discriminate against them during the marketing campaigns. The ad tool allowed advertisers to exclude certain sections of the society – African American, Asian American, Hispanic and others – from their target audience. This handed over immense power to the advertisers but has now been disabled for housing, employment, credit sections.