Facebook marked more than 1.5 million users who are under the age of 18 as being interested in gambling and alcohol, an investigation has found.

According to a report from The Guardian – a joint investigation with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation – the platform’s algorithm for targeted advertising keyed in on 740,000 users under the age of 18 ads for being interested in gambling and another 940,000 underage users as being interested alcohol. 

An investigation finds that Facebook marked underage users as being interested in alcohol and gambling  (File photo)

An investigation finds that Facebook marked underage users as being interested in alcohol and gambling  (File photo)

An investigation finds that Facebook marked underage users as being interested in alcohol and gambling  (File photo)

Facebook’s targeted marketing algorithm which flagged those users aggregates likes and interests to help key-in on products and services that a user might want to buy, but doesn’t factor in age.

Ads are then automatically conjured up and served to users on sidebars and in their news feeds.

‘We don’t allow ads that promote the sale of alcohol or gambling to minors on Facebook and we enforce against this activity when we find it,’ Facebook told The Guardian in a statement.

‘We also work closely with regulators to provide guidance for marketers to help them reach their audiences effectively and responsibly.’ 

While Facebook has an algorithm designed to comb over advertisement, the software is clearly far from perfect.

Algorithms designed to weed out ads that break its policies and those built to filter out toxic content have often let offenders slip through the cracks.

When ads or content go unnoticed Facebook often relies on users to step in and report content. At this point the the offensive material has the potential to reach millions of users.

This isn’t the first time that Facebook has come under scrutiny for endangering its younger users.

A separate Facebook messenger app that the company said would protect kids – some as young as six-years-old – was found to be letting its young users talk to strangers. 


Facebook has been embroiled in a massive data scandal after it was revealed that at least 87 million users’ data was harvested without their knowledge. 

Much of the attention has been cast on how the firm collects data when users are on the site. 

In a new blog post, Facebook has provided further details on how it tracks users when they’re off of the site. 

It also means non-Facebook users are also tracked as they browse the web. 

Here are some of Facebook’s services and plugins that collect data on users when they’re not on the site:

Social plugins 

  • Many sites have ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons that connect to Facebook, while many apps or sites use ‘Facebook login,’ which allows you to log into another site or app using your Facebook account 
  • This collects your IP address, browser and operating system information and the address of the website or app you’re using.  

Facebook Analytics 

  • The firm says it helps websites and apps ‘better understand’ how people use their services. 
  • It gives websites and apps information on which users are visiting their site, based on demographics like age, gender and location, as well as what they click and how much time they spend on the website. 
  • This collects your IP address, browser information and cookies.  

Facebook ads and measurement tools

  • These enable websites and apps to show ads from Facebook advertisers, run their ads on Facebook or elsewhere and glean more data on ad campaigns.
  • Facebook’s main services for this are the Facebook Audience Network, Facebook Pixel and Facebook ad measurement.   


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