Teenage Problems/My daughter is getting PPI/no-win-no-fee messages on Facebook
We have a 16-year-old daughter. A few weeks ago she joined Facebook because her friend wanted to add her [this friend btw is someone she's known since she was 13 - long before they were ever interested in Facebook, and we know the friend]; we allowed her to join it on the condition that her friends were people she knew only in the real world, and she's stuck to that - vigorously, I might add. She's a bit too safety-conscious on the Internet; she likes to look at sites like The Guardian, Auto Trader and AutoExpress rather than anything salacious or worrying.
In fact, when she does use Facebook, it's mainly to help others with homework (particularly in her areas of expertise which are Geography, IT, history and business systems), rather than inane chit-chat as most people use it for! Her photo wall on it would be considered bland by most people's standards... just a series of pictures of the local area (without her), and none of her on it, nothing identifiable. There's even some of local streetlighting [she's into industrial design and has done some good artistic sketches of future Philips/WRTL streetlights which look fairly professional]. Roads/travel/engineering is an interest of hers - would you know what a Philips Iridium is [it's a streetlight] - I didn't until know!
However, she came to us about a problem on Facebook, rather than, like some other parents, who normally get alerted to problems their children get up to on the site.
She told us she'd kept getting numerous messages and friend requests from PPI (payment protection insurance) salespeople, and the message content wasn't disturbing, just "Click here to claim your payment protection insurance", and they were corporate accounts, I should add, not individuals. I don't know how they do it - she doesn't look at PPI or injurylawyers4u-type websites.
She tried to block the accounts but Facebook would not allow it - apparently these 'corporate partner' accounts cannot be blocked or deleted from friends list, but their messages can be deleted. The corporate partner accounts apparently add themselves to your friends list and can't be deleted from it, she told me.
It wasn't just PPI, also firms offering "if you've had an accident claim no-win no-fee" etc and payday loan companies. This isn't something she's looked at or even interested in, so how they found her on Facebook is... worrying to say the least.
I know parents worry about paedophiles/stalkers/cyber-bullies etc. on social networking, but PPI salespeople and payday loans? That's a new one on me.
We complained to Facebook, but they told us there was nothing they could do, they were perfectly within their rights to advertise PPI to whoever they so wished. They also said that 'corporate partner' accounts are within their rights to 'advertise to the demographic they wish'.
She's upset about this and now is hesitant to login, although she told me when she checked her email she had 40 messages from various PPI/payday loan/no-win-no-fee companies, disguised as friend requests - and they weren't accounts in the name of individuals (no "John Smith" as login name, rather as "MegaCorp Name").
This is upsetting her and she told us she wants help; is this a form of cyber-bullying, or is it spamming?
What can we do as a family? It's not her fault [she's a responsible internet user and LOVES sites like stackoverflow.com, guardian.co.uk,autotrader.co.uk/.ie and theregister, only has Facebook to communicate with those who won't use email or text - admittedly she prefers Gmail and Hotmail, but only older people/friends of the family stick to them]. She didn't ask for them to send it to her, and we're concerned about how to prevent this happening again... if she deleted her account and set up a new one, would the situation keep recurring?
So basically, she's not doing anything wrong, it's how to handle a situation that she can't control which we need help with.
Hi there Laurie,
Thank you for taking the time to write to me and I hope that I can help.
There is nothing more annoying or frustrating that getting text messages, e-mails or Facebook messages from companies that you do not know or people that have no need to contact you and it can become distressing, so I understand why you are having concerns about this having an impact upon your daughter.
Facebook is a global giant in communication and it makes its money, not from people subscribing to use it, but due the advertising that is carried out on the site. Companies can choose to advertise on Facebook via banner ads (which are easily clicked off) or by group targeting (a form of 'spamming' based on the criteria of the aimed market). As Facebook is a free to use site, they will always say that advertising plays a vital part of keeping the content free and that, as a user, your daughter will have accepted that she may be contacted by advertisers as there will be a clause in the terms and conditions of sign-up. That said, there are guidelines produced by Facebook for advertisers that govern how they should practice and how they can target the appropriate audience. I have put a link below to the advertising guidelines and it may help if you have a read so that you can take your case back to Facebook to try and get this stopped.
There is a section (V. B) that refers to harassment, whereby advertisers cannot harass or bully individuals and this could be something that is happening (in particularly, if it is the same company that is making repeat contact). Go back to Facebook and explain to them that you believe that this excessive contact could constitute harassment and see if there is anything they can do. If they still refuse then there are a few things that you should be aware of:
Facebook advertisers use targeting based upon the information that the person using it chooses to register and put on their profile. Things such as gender, date of birth, location and education level are all target fields that can be searched for by advertisers to match their ads to their appropriate audience. If this information is not on a person's profile then they cannot be matched to advertiser searches and as such, should not contact them.
So, if Facebook say there is nothing that can be done, close your daughter's existing account and open up another one with the most basic of information. Some of it will be compulsory but the majority of it will be voluntary. Keep the information on the profile to a minimum and ensure that the privacy settings only allow contact from friends and this should reduce the amount of messages that your daughter will receive but will not stop her from being able to help others with their homework.
Facebook is brilliant at generating contact from across the World but not so good at protecting its users from unsolicited advertising (because that is how they make their money). It should not have to be necessary to close your daughter's account, but if Facebook will not help, then it may be the only option. Ensuring strict privacy and security settings on the new account and hopefully, this should solve the problems.
I hope that helps.