Younger persons are residing within the social media trial section of huge tech

As a 20 year old, much of my online life was dominated by social media.

While the generations above me roamed anonymously through random chat sites or found connections in niche online forums, much of my online life has been curated by the likes of Facebook and Instagram. They succeeded in doing this thanks to the unchecked data collection.

That means not only my name, age, gender and location, but also who I connect with on their platforms, what content I interact with, what other websites I visit, what I buy online and even what is waiting for me with my purchases Dare.

From this data, Meta, to which Facebook and Instagram belong, knows whether I’m stressed at university, worried about my appearance or interested in alternative health. They use this data to create a profile about who I am and what content keeps me engaged and, most importantly, what advertising appeals to me.

These advertisements directed at me may seem useful or largely harmless, including: noise-canceling headphones to increase productivity, body positivity content, or healthy green juices. But Meta’s powerful recommendation algorithm, which tracks our data and curates our feed, is also geared towards providing ongoing engagement regardless of its value.

While I may receive motivational messages, I may also receive content that encourages ‘the loop’ and unsustainable work habits. Instead of happy body positivity content, I may get increasingly intense diet ads and other “healthy” eating trends. And as we’ve all seen in the media, certain parts of the alternative health movement have also seen a lot more hesitant vaccinations.

In most cases, the use of personal data shapes our online experience in covert ways that we cannot immediately see. Young people should be concerned about how much of their personal data is being collected and how their privacy is being breached.

By the time a child turns 13, advertisers will likely have collected over 72 million data points about them. For Generation Z and Alpha, our data has been collected since birth, but we have no idea how it will be used in the future. The data collected in 2021 could have an impact on us next year or be repurposed and used in 2031.

Meta said it no longer allows advertisers to target users under the age of 18 based on their interests. But research by Reset Australia has shown that its powerful data collection tools are still following young people online, gathering information and feeding it into its ad serving machine learning system.

If Meta doesn’t intend to use them for targeted advertising, why collect them in the first place?

The truth of the matter now is that we just don’t know what Meta is doing with it. Or what it might do in the future. And I currently have no right to withdraw my data. The terms and conditions of social media platforms are often deliberately confusing and opaque.

Which begs the critical question, did I really consent to being monitored as a minor?

The reality is that young people are living in the testing phase of big tech, where big questions like this don’t have to be properly answered. The solution cannot be to ban social media from children or restrict their use of technology. Rather, we need governments to put laws and regulations in place.

Young people in particular need strong regulations to force social media and technology companies to handle children’s data responsibly and ethically. The draft law to improve online privacy is a good start, but we need to make sure that it is robust and not just another concessional, industry-led toothless attempt at regulation.

Australia has the opportunity to lead the world in child privacy and data collection regulation by social media and technology companies.

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