Thousands of children who use Facebook have been marked as potentially interested in adverts about gambling and alcohol.
Children Flagged As Interested In Gambling, Alcohol
These interests are automatically generated based on what Facebook learns about a particular user based on his or her activities on the social network. Facebook advertisers can then tap these interests to target their messages and ads to users who are likely interested in a topic.
Facebook's algorithm, which automatically categorizes users, has long face been criticized. It was revealed last year that Facebook was targeting users potentially interested in subjects such as homosexuality, Islam or liberalism, regardless that the European Union's GDPR data protection laws have marked out religion, sexuality and political beliefs as sensitive information.
An investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation now reveals that the social media company's advertising tool has flagged 740,000 children as being interested in gambling. It also flagged 940,000 minors as being interested in alcoholic beverages.
The social media company said in a statement that it does not allow ads that promote the sale of alcohol or gambling to minors.
"We enforce against this activity when we find it," the company said in a statement. "We also work closely with regulators to provide guidance for marketers to help them reach their audiences effectively and responsibly."
Other Ways Advertisers Can Target Minors With Interest In Alcohol, Gambling
Facebook nonetheless still allows advertisers to specifically target minors based on their interest in alcohol or gambling. The Guardian cited a Facebook insider who provided an example of an anti-gambling service that may be interested in reaching out to children with potential gambling issues to offer them help.
Developers of an exploitative video game with "loot box" mechanics may also target adverts to children who fall into the subgroup of those who may be interested in gambling sans breaching Facebook's regulations.
Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley revealed that he would be introducing a bill that would ban the sale of addictive loot boxes.
"When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn't be allowed to monetize addiction," Hawley said. "Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences."