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Facebook likes children – well, any easy targets

Facebook has been targeting Australian children, using algorithms to identify and exploit them through highly targeted advertising.

The Australian newspaper’s Darren Davidson referred to a 23-page Facebook “Confidential: Internal Only” document dated 2017 that he had seen, outlining how the social network could target “moments when young people need a confidence boost”.

This article’s intention is to point you to Davidson’s comprehensive and chilling report. It should be compulsory reading if you have children or you are remotely interested in how invasive and powerful social media has become – please read it. And for fairness, please read Facebook's offical response at the end of this article.

The intent of this commentary is to, yet again, warn readers of the perils of using social media – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn et al, and how revealing seemingly harmless information about what and where you ate, where you holidayed, what you like/dislike, and things you probably would not even tell your mother, hand carte blanche power to Facebook et al. It is a message that bears repeating.

In 1964 Marshal McLuhan wrote in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man that the medium affects society as much as the content itself – the medium embeds itself in any message it conveys, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. McLuhan wrote in the era of radio and print being overtaken by TV – well before the advent of the Internet.

Facebook has become a powerful global medium, far more so than any other, because of three things – it is addictive, it knows more about you than you could possibly imagine, and it uses that information to make lots of money. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy – the more you use it, the stronger and more invasive it gets.

No-one can categorically say that its founder Mark Zuckerberg is evil. Indeed if you read his screeds like “Building a Global Community” you can see he feels his role is to be the very glue that holds a community together, to help set standards for publication and more. Reading between the lines he is explicitly asking each reader to give it even more personal data in the guise of helping it to do more, be more personal, for you. And to make more money.

The fact is Facebook sells that data — your data — to advertisers and others and that is something this writer is not prepared to accept. I am not on Facebook and by this action, it is even clearer to me that Facebook preys on people by disguising the medium as the message and increasing people’s vulnerability at a time when we should be doing exactly the opposite. Oh, but that would not make as much money.

If you are concerned just search for “criticism of Facebook” – there are 61 million articles out there. Or search for “Facebook privacy concerns” and there are another nine million there. Wikipedia has a good primer, albeit a little out of date.

Following is a list of 98 data points prepared by the writer in July 2016 and since then the list has grown. Since then Facebook has acquired WhatsApp, introduced chatbots that sell you stuff while gathering more information, introduced object and facial recognition for photos, and has a host of new and highly aggressive ways to expand its reach — to connect everyone — including project Aquilla to connect the four billion people without Internet access, all to gather data to enable advertisers to sell you more.

Facebook formally admits to collecting data about you,  albeit in eloquently crafted and obfuscated language. This is the tip of the iceberg as Facebook takes pole position in the “creepy, intrusive stuff they know about you” stakes.

  1. Location
  2. Age
  3. Generation
  4. Gender
  5. Language
  6. Education level
  7. Field of study
  8. School
  9. Ethnic affinity
  10. Income and net worth
  11. Home ownership and type
  12. Home value
  13. Property size
  14. Square footage of home
  15. Year home was built
  16. Household composition
  17. Users who have an anniversary within 30 days
  18. Users who are away from family or hometown
  19. Users who are friends with someone who has an anniversary, is newly married or engaged, recently moved, or has an upcoming birthday
  20. Users in long-distance relationships
  21. Users in new relationships
  22. Users who have new jobs
  23. Users who are newly engaged
  24. Users who are newly married
  25. Users who have recently moved
  26. Users who have birthdays soon
  27. Parents
  28. Expectant parents
  29. Mothers, divided by “type” (soccer, trendy, etc.)
  30. Users who are likely to engage in politics
  31. Conservatives and liberals
  32. Relationship status
  33. Employer
  34. Industry
  35. Job title
  36. Office type
  37. Interests
  38. Users who own motorcycles
  39. Users who plan to buy a car (and what kind/brand of car, and how soon)
  40. Users who bought auto parts or accessories recently
  41. Users who are likely to need auto parts or services
  42. Style and brand of car you drive
  43. Year car was bought
  44. Age of car
  45. How much money user is likely to spend on next car
  46. Where user is likely to buy next car
  47. How many employees your company has
  48. Users who own small businesses
  49. Users who work in management or are executives
  50. Users who have donated to charity (divided by type)
  51. Operating system
  52. Users who play canvas games
  53. Users who own a gaming console
  54. Users who have created a Facebook event
  55. Users who have used Facebook Payments
  56. Users who have spent more than average on Facebook Payments
  57. Users who administer a Facebook page
  58. Users who have recently uploaded photos to Facebook
  59. Internet browser
  60. Email service
  61. Early/late adopters of technology
  62. Expats (divided by what country they are from originally)
  63. Users who belong to a credit union, national bank or regional bank
  64. Users who investor (divided by investment type)
  65. Number of credit lines
  66. Users who are active credit card users
  67. Credit card type
  68. Users who have a debit card
  69. Users who carry a balance on their credit card
  70. Users who listen to the radio
  71. Preference in TV shows
  72. Users who use a mobile device (divided by what brand they use)
  73. Internet connection type
  74. Users who recently acquired a smartphone or tablet
  75. Users who access the Internet through a smartphone or tablet
  76. Users who use coupons
  77. Types of clothing user’s household buys
  78. Time of year user’s household shops most
  79. Users who are “heavy” buyers of beer, wine or spirits
  80. Users who buy groceries (and what kinds)
  81. Users who buy beauty products
  82. Users who buy allergy medications, cough/cold medications, pain relief products, and over-the-counter meds
  83. Users who spend money on household products
  84. Users who spend money on products for kids or pets, and what kinds of pets
  85. Users whose household makes more purchases than is average
  86. Users who tend to shop online (or off)
  87. Types of restaurants user eats at
  88. Kinds of stores user shops at
  89. Users who are “receptive” to offers from companies offering online auto insurance, higher education or mortgages, and prepaid debit cards/satellite TV
  90. Length of time user has lived in house
  91. Users who are likely to move soon
  92. Users who are interested in the Olympics, fall football, cricket or Ramadan
  93. Users who travel frequently, for work or pleasure
  94. Users who commute to work
  95. Types of vacations user tends to go on
  96. Users who recently returned from a trip
  97. Users who recently used a travel app
  98. Users who participate in a timeshare

And if you think that is scary, Facebook also collects data on non-members and keeps your data even if you can quit this addictive habit. WikiHow has an article on permanently deactivating your account.

Facebook does fulfil a need — not necessarily yours — so you need to make it as hard as possible for it to bite the hand that feeds them.

Facebook's official comments on research and ad targeting:

“On 1 May, The Australian posted a story regarding research done by Facebook and subsequently shared with an advertiser. The premise of the article is misleading. 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.

"Facebook has an established process to review the research we perform. This research did not follow that process, and we are reviewing the details to correct the oversight.”

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!