Meta, formerly Facebook, plans to remove thousands of sensitive ad targeting options

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Meta said Tuesday it plans to remove detailed ad targeting options related to “sensitive” topics, such as ads based on interactions with content related to race, health, religious practices, political beliefs, or sexual orientation.

The company, which recently changed its name to Meta and generates most of its revenue from digital advertising, has received extensive scrutiny over the past few years for its ad targeting capabilities and rules.

In a blog post, Meta gave examples of targeting categories that would no longer be allowed on their platforms, such as “Lung Cancer Education”, “World Diabetes Day”, “LGBT Culture”, “Jewish Holidays” or political beliefs and social environment topics. The change is to take place from January 19, 2022.

The company has faced criticism of its micro-targeting skills, including for abuse such as discriminating against advertisers or targeting vulnerable groups. In 2019, it agreed to make changes to its advertising platform as part of an agreement on discrimination issues in housing.

“We heard concerns from experts that targeting options like this could be used in ways that could lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups,” said Graham Mudd, vice president of product marketing for ads, in the post.

Its bespoke advertising capabilities are used by numerous advertisers, including political campaigns and social groups and corporations.

“The decision to remove these detailed targeting options was not an easy one and we know this change could have a negative impact on some businesses and organizations,” Mudd said in the post, adding that some advertisers were concerned that they were could not use these advertisements to produce positive social change results.

Advertisers on Meta’s platforms can still target audiences by location, use their own customer lists, reach custom audiences who have engaged with their content, and send ads to people with similar traits as those users.

The move marks an important shift in the company’s approach to social and political advertising, although it is not expected to have any major financial implications. For example, CEO Mark Zuckerberg estimated in 2019 that politicians’ ads would represent less than 0.5 percent of Meta’s sales in 2020.

The question of political advertising on social media platforms, including whether the content of politicians’ ads should be factually checked, has sparked much debates among the general public, lawmakers, and businesses surrounding the US presidential election.

Twitter banned political advertising altogether in 2019, but Meta had previously said it wouldn’t limit how political advertisers would reach potential voters.

Facebook, which now allows users to see fewer ads on topics like politics and alcohol, said Tuesday it would give people more control over the ads they see, including those about gambling and weight loss, early next year.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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