Meta plans to remove thousands of sensitive ad-targeting categories.


SAN FRANCISCO – Meta, the social media company formerly known as Facebook, said Tuesday that it plans to deny advertisers the ability to target people with promotions based on their interactions with content related to health, race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation and thousands other topics.

The move, which will take effect on January 19, will affect advertisers on Meta apps like Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, as well as on the company’s audience network that advertises on third-party apps. The Silicon Valley company said it is making changes to limit the abuse of its targeting tools. In the past, these features have been used to discriminate against people or to send unsolicited messages.

“We have heard the concerns of experts that such targeting options could be used in a way that would lead to negative perceptions of people from underrepresented groups,” said Graham Mudd, vice president of product marketing for Meta.

Meta relies on targeted advertising for the bulk of its $ 86 billion in annual revenue. The company has succeeded in giving advertisers the ability to personalize promotions, as brands can often target their ads to Facebook, Instagram and Messenger users who are interested in specific topics such as LGBTQ culture or Catholicism. Such tailored ads often have a better chance of triggering a sale or entice users to join a specific Facebook group or support an online organization than more generic ads.

But Meta has also faced a number of complaints about advertisers abusing these targeting capabilities.

For example, before the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, advertisers used targeting tools to promote direct body armor, weapon holsters and rifle upgrades in ultra-right police groups on Facebook. In 2020 the auditors concluded that Facebook hasn’t done enough to protect the people who use its services from discriminatory posts and ads.

In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sued on Facebook for allowing landlords and home sellers to unfairly limit who can see ads for their property on the platform based on characteristics such as race, religion and national origin. And in 2017 ProPublica found that Facebook’s algorithms created ad categories for users interested in topics such as “Jewish hater” and “how to burn Jews.”

In response to abuse, the social network has changed its ad targeting tools over time. In 2018 removed 5000 ad targeting classifications keep advertisers away from excluding certain users… Facebook also disabled anti-Semitic advertising categories following a ProPublica report.

But Meta’s recent changes may be unpopular with the millions of organizations that rely on the company’s tools to grow their audience and grow their businesses. Advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger that closely matches the interests of people is often more accessible and effective than advertising on television and other media.

These organizations include political and advocacy groups, many of which rely on a fundraising platform. Last year, Facebook was criticized by political campaigns and NGOs when it temporarily removed political ads from his websites dedicated to the presidential elections; the restriction was lifted in March. Several campaigns said the move benefited existing and larger organizations that weren’t counting on small donations from Facebook.

Republicans and Democrats criticized the Meta changes on Tuesday. Reed Vines, vice president of Majority Strategies, a digital ad buying firm that works with Republicans, said in an email that the social network has evolved from a “gold standard of political advertising” to creating barriers between campaigns and voters.

“This decision is harmful to nonprofit and community advertisers across the board and will result in fewer charitable donations, limited public comment and a less informed public,” he said.

Mr Mudd said the new policy would be unpopular with some, but the company decided it was the best course to move forward.

“Like many of our decisions, it was a tough choice and required a balance of competing interests with support from both directions,” he said. He added that some of the changes to advertising have been under discussion since 2016.

Augustine Fu, an independent ad fraud researcher, said that ads on Facebook and its other apps have performed “better than any other display ad elsewhere for a long time, because Facebook has years of people volunteering information, and that’s quite exactly. ” He added that off-platform personalized ads often relied on guesswork that was “so wildly imprecise that when you try to target based on it, you’re worse off than trying to spray and pray.”

However, Meta has often struggled with how to use consumer data without misusing it.

“Of course, Facebook can infer that you are gay or African American, but then the question arises whether it is ethical to use these categories for targeting,” said Mr. Fu.

The new changes do not mean Meta is moving away from ad targeting. The company will continue to allow this for tens of thousands of other categories, which some critics say advertisers can use to achieve targeting similar to what the deleted topics have given them. Meta added that she will continue to use tools such as geotargeting.

The company also said it will allow users, who may already restrict access to ads on topics such as politics and alcohol, to start blocking gambling and weight loss promotions early next year.

“We remain a strong believer in personalized advertising, and an overtly personalized experience in general is key to who we are and what we do,” said Mr Mudd.


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