Facebook To Limit Ad Targeting For Health, Race, Ethnicity, Other Attributes

Meta, the parent company of social media platform Facebook, said on Tuesday it plans to eliminate advertisers' targeting of people with promotions based on their interactions with content related to health, race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation and thousands of other topics.

The change takes effect on January 19, 2022.

It affects advertisers on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, as well as the company’s audience network, which places ads in third-party apps to reduce the number of ways its targeting tool can be abused.

“The interest targeting options we are removing are not based on people’s physical characteristics or personal attributes, but instead on things like people’s interactions with content on our platform,” said Graham Mudd, vice president of marketing, ads at Meta.

“We’ve heard concerns from experts that targeting options like these could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups.”

Examples of these topics include those related to sexual orientation and religious practices with regard to terms such as "same-sex marriage," “LGBT culture," Catholic Church,” and “Jewish holidays."

The move also would ban topics or terms related to political beliefs, social issues, and advocacy causes, as well as political organizations and figures.

These detailed targeting options are based on ads clicked, pages engaged with, activities people engage in on Facebook related to such things as their device usage, and travel preferences, as well as demographics including age, gender and location, and the mobile device used and the speed of the network connection.

Meta -- Facebook at the time -- in October 2019 was sued in a class-action suit accusing it of discriminating against older, female users by withholding advertising for financial services such as bank accounts, insurance, investments and loans, according to Reuters. The complaint, filed in San Francisco federal court, said Facebook showed a willingness to allow financial services advertisers to “target” prospective customers by age and gender, despite a recent overhaul covering other kinds of ads.

The complaint was filed seven months after Facebook agreed to overhaul its targeted ad system -- including for Instagram and Messenger -- to settle lawsuits by civil rights groups.

Meta and specifically Facebook has managed to give smaller advertisers a place to personalize promotions, and many are interested in specific topics related to culture. “Relevant” ads -- as the industry has called them -- have historically had a better chance of spurring a sale or prompting users to join a particular Facebook group.

Google in March 2021 said it would move away from using technologies that track specific users as they browse the web in favor of another type of technology to target ads.

As Meta moves away from allowing advertising to use specific phrases, it’s suggesting that brands or businesses trying to connect with its customers use Location Targeting, Lookalike audiences or Engagement Custom Audiences to reach people who have liked their Page or people who have watched their videos that may have appeared in News Feed, for example. These people have already shown direct interest in and engaged with the advertiser’s cause or brand and may be interested in supporting when an advertiser reaches back out.

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