Facebook has set the alarm bells ringing after it was revealed the social media giant was developing tools to target insecure teenagers with advertising based on their emotions.
One advertiser was shown a 23-page proposal, obtained by The Australian, which claimed Facebook could detect when children as young as 14 were feeling insecure, worthless, stressed, stupid, overwhelmed, useless, defeated and serve up advertising best suited to those emotions.
Facebook has come out and denied it targets users based on emotion – but it did acknowledge the existence of the research was ended up being leaked to The Australian.
In a statement, Facebook said: “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.”
So, does that get Facebook off the hook? Should we be worried?
One wonders what would have happened if this report hadn’t been intercepted.
The idea that Facebook would devise an algorithm that would detect when we are at our most vulnerable and then send an ad our way to suit that emotion is really on the nose.
And the fact it is aimed at Australian teenagers as young as 14 is even more alarming.
Facebook already targets their users based on their profiles, their age, where they live and these other variables to serve up ads for products and services that they’re more likely to be interested in.
The social media site is, after all, a business and like any other business its objective is to make money.
Facebook is free to use – the only price we pay is with our information. Not personal information like your name address and phone number but information like your gender, your age and what you like.
That’s why Facebook is so attractive to advertisers because they can target campaigns to exactly the right audience.
Companies that advertise on TV and radio don’t know who’s watching or listening. They have a rough idea based on demographics but it’s still pretty much a scatter gun approach.
Facebook, on the other hand, has a laser focused ability to serve up the right users for their advertisers.
In other words, the people more likely to be converted by those ads as a customer.
That’s pretty powerful enough as it is but the fact that Facebook is trying to hone that approach even further based on the emotions we feel may be beyond the pale.
Just how ethical would this be?
If you read the fine print on Facebook it states quite clearly that your information and what you share can be used for advertising purposes.
Facebook is not using any information we haven’t voluntarily shared to begin with so when you look at it we’re providing the ammunition for the social network’s gun.
But to think that Facebook is looking at your posts and trying to work out your emotions to make a buck is more than ghoulish, it could be illegal because it’s targeting people who are so young.
If you’re a parent reading this you should be slightly concerned but the good news is you can adjust the settings on Facebook so you are less of a target.
These settings are buried deep in several menu layers. It’s actually part of the privacy settings which leads to the ad preferences menu.
You finally reach a page that allows you to control what ads are intended to reach you based on your profile like relationship status, your employer, job titles, education and other things you’re interested in.
You can turn all these things off so you’re a little more anonymous.
But you’re always going to be visible to Facebook in some way even if you change these settings.
The only way to be completely free of Facebook is to quit Facebook and shut down your account.