Meta To Ban Ad-Targeting Options Based On Information Like Race and Politics

Meta, the recently rebranded parent company of Facebook, announced that it would be removing advertisers' ability to use ad-targeting options based on sensitive information such as race, sexual orientation, religion and political beliefs, among many others.

Credit: Meta

Graham Mudd, Meta VP of Product Marketing and Ads, explained that keywords referencing causes, organisations and public figures related to the aforementioned topics will be removed as options for advertisers. What this means for advertisers is that when users, for example, engage with a post about "LGBT culture", they cannot be targeted for ads based on that information.


However, the company will continue to let advertisers track gender, location and age.


"We want to better match people’s evolving expectations of how advertisers may reach them on our platform and address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options we make available," said Mudd.


He further noted that the targeting options being removed are not based on users' physical characteristics or personal attributes. Instead, the options are connected to users' interests as shown from the types of content they interact with on the company’s platforms.


The change will take effect on 19 January 2022, rolling out across all of Meta's major platforms, namely Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, along with other websites and apps using the same ad-targeting tools.


"The decision to remove these Detailed Targeting options was not easy and we know this change may negatively impact some businesses and organizations."


A large part of Meta’s annual US$86 billion revenue comes from targeted advertising. In the third quarter of this year, Facebook recorded a total advertising revenue of US$28.2 billion.


Facebook, Instagram and Messenger’s ability to track users' interests and online behaviour make them attractive platforms for advertisers to serve up advertising content.

Pro-Trump protesters storming the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. Credit: Stephanie Keith via Reuters

While there are some benefits to having targeted ads, it’s also prone to abuse. For example, prior to the U.S. Capitol Riots earlier this year, advertisers were able to push ads promoting the sale and use of firearms in militia groups. Facebook also ran ads that fueled hate and supported the insurrection among far-right groups.


Meta's decision to remove ad-targeting options reportedly came amid growing pressure among lawmakers in both the U.S. and in Europe, demanding that the company stop using personal information for political advertisements. These same bodies are also asking Meta to include an option for users to opt-out of them.


"Some of our advertising partners have expressed concerns about these targeting options going away because of their ability to help generate positive societal change, while others understand the decision to remove them," said Mudd.


The Meta executive added that they’re expanding ad controls for users, which will allow them to see fewer ads about certain topics. Users, for instance, can already opt to see fewer ads related to politics, parenting, alcohol and pets. This will be expanding early next year to also cover gambling and weight loss.

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