A pan-societal coalition coordinated by Global Action Plan (Gap) is pressurising Facebook and Google to cease targeting advertising toward under-18s with the publication of an open letter accusing both firms of profiling teenagers to sell targeted products – in breach of their privacy rights.
What do campaigners want?
The letter makes uncomfortable reading for its recipients, arriving days after a £2.5bn lawsuit against Google for illegally data mining 5 million YouTube users in the UK aged under 13 for advertising purposes.
Among 23 signatories to the letter is Duncan McCann, the representative claimant in that lawsuit, who is also joined by Caroline Lucas MP and Friends of the Earth.
They reiterate that any firm that is processing the data of anyone under 13 for advertising purposes is breaking UK and EU law.
Pushing one step further, the coalition is also demanding that targetted ’behavioural’ ads are also banned for a broader group aged up to 18 years.
It is argued that collecting identifying data such as browser history, location and personal information ’undermines children’s privacy’ and plays on the susceptibility of the demographic to marketing messages.
Gap’s ’Stop Targeted Advertising to Kids’ campaign contends that online behavioural advertising is fuelling rampant consumerism – to the detriment of individual wellbeing and the planet.
At heart, the group wants existing protections enshrined in British and European law to be fully enforced in order to avoid a situation such as that in the US where adtech firms are said to hold 72m data points on a child by the time they turn 13.
What are social networks already doing to protect kids?
Restrictions on targetting teenagers with alcohol and gambling ads are already strictly enforced, but Gap wants this extended to a blanket ban on all advertising.
Oliver Hayes, policy and campaigns lead at Gap, said: ”The problem isn’t just age-inappropriate ads. It’s that targeted ads are inherently exploitative and manipulative, regardless of content.”
Just this month the UK Information Commissioner’s Office introduced new standards to persuade companies to switch off profiling of under-18s by default.
Dismissing the letter, a YouTube spokesperson said: ”YouTube is not for children under the age of 13. We launched the YouTube Kids app as a dedicated destination for kids and are always working to better protect kids and families on YouTube.”
YouTube Kids was created specifically to avoid targeted advertising, with all videos labelled as ’Made for Kids’ on the main site also excluded from personalised adverts.
Google also stresses that it does not permit targetting ads at users below the age of 13, with targetting only becoming an option for the 18-24 bracket.
Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook – also named and shamed in the letter – have yet to respond.