Facebook To Prohibit Companies From Serving Behaviorally Targeted Ads To Minors

Facebook plans to prohibit companies from targeting ads to minors based on their web and app activity, as well as their expressed interests. Instead, the company will restrict targeting categories for users under 18 to age, gender and location.

The new restrictions, which will apply across Facebook.com, Instagram and Messenger, will take effect in several weeks, the company said on Tuesday.

Facebook added that made the move after hearing from advocates that young users “may not be equipped” to decide whether to opt-out of interest-based advertising.

“We agree ... which is why we’re taking a more precautionary approach in how advertisers can reach young people with ads,” the company stated. 

Josh Golin, executive director of the advocacy group Fairplay (formerly Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood), says Facebook's move appears to be a good step, but adds that more information is needed.

“These changes are long overdue and we're glad that Facebook is finally listening to advocates,” he says.

But he adds: “We still want to see how it rolls out, and we want to see the details.”

He also says the group would like the Federal Trade Commission to review the planned changes, given Facebook's “really terrible record” with young users.

Golin's group has previously criticized Facebook on a variety of fronts. In 2018, the group sought an FTC investigation of Facebook's Messenger Kids -- a messaging app for young children -- alleging that it didn't comply with a federal privacy law requiring website operators to obtain parental consent before collecting personal data from children under the age of 13. (Facebook requires parents to give permission before children use Messenger Kids. But Fairplay and other groups claimed the company doesn't adequately verify that the people giving permission are actually the users' parents.)

The following year, the group sought a separate FTC investigation into Facebook after a report surfaced that the company tricked children into running up their parents' credit card charges while playing games.

Facebook also said on Tuesday that it will revise Instagram by giving new users under 16 “private” accounts by default.

“Historically, we asked young people to choose between a public account or a private account when they signed up for Instagram, but our recent research showed that they appreciate a more private experience,” the company stated.

The social networking platform plans to reach out to young users who already have a public account and tout the benefits of changing the setting to private.

Earlier this year, Facebook came under fire over a controversial plan to create a version of Instagram for users under the age of 13.

Advocates, state attorneys general and lawmakers have expressed concerns over that plan for a variety of reasons, including the belief that Instagram's focus on appearances is harmful to young children.

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