Meta Plans to remove thousands of sensitive ad targeting categories
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SAN FRANCISCO – Meta, the social media company formerly known as Facebook, said on Tuesday that it plans to eliminate the ability of advertisers to target people with promotions based on their interactions with content related to the health, race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, sexuality orientation and thousands of other topics.
The move, which takes effect Jan. 19, affects advertisers on Meta’s apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger and the company’s audience network, which places ads in third-party apps. The Silicon Valley company said it is making changes to limit how its targeting tools can be abused. In the past, these features have been used to discriminate against people or to spam them with unwanted messages.
“We’ve heard from experts worry that targeting options like these could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people from under-represented groups,” said Graham Mudd, vice-president. -President of Product Marketing for Meta.
Meta relies on targeted advertising for the bulk of its $ 86 billion in annual revenue. The company has excelled at giving advertisers a place to personalize promotions, with brands often being able to target their ads to Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger users who are interested in topics as specific as LGBTQ culture or Catholicism. . Such personalized ads often have a better chance of triggering a sale or getting users to join a particular Facebook group or support an online organization than more generalized ads.
But Meta has also faced a litany of complaints about advertisers abusing these targeting capabilities.
Prior to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, for example, advertisers used targeting tools to guide promotions for bulletproof vests, gun cases, and rifle upgrades. with far-right militia groups on Facebook. In 2020, listeners concluded that Facebook had not done enough to protect people who use its service from discriminatory posts and ads.
In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook for allowing homeowners and sellers to unfairly restrict who can see ads for their properties on the platform based on characteristics such as race, religion and national origin. And in 2017, ProPublica discovered that Facebook’s algorithms had generated ad categories for users interested in topics such as “hating Jews” and “how to burn Jews”.
In response to the abuse, the social network has refined its ad targeting tools over time. In 2018, it removed 5,000 ad targeting classifications to prevent advertisers from excluding certain users. Facebook also disabled anti-Semitic ad categories after the ProPublica report.
But the latest Meta changes can be unpopular with the millions of organizations that rely on business tools to grow their audiences and grow their businesses. Advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger that is finely tuned to people’s interests is often more affordable and effective than advertising on TV and other media.
These organizations include political and advocacy groups, many of which rely on the platform for fundraising. Last year, political campaigns and non-governmental organizations criticized Facebook for temporarily removing political advertising from its sites around the presidential election; the restriction was lifted in March. Some campaigns said the move benefited incumbents and large organizations that didn’t rely on small donations through Facebook.
Republicans and Democrats lambasted the Meta changes on Tuesday. Reid Vineis, vice president of Majority Strategies, a digital ad buying company that works with Republicans, said in an emailed statement that the social network has gone from being “the gold standard for political advertising. “to obstacles between the countryside and the voters.
“This move is detrimental to nonprofit and public affairs advertisers across the board and will result in less charitable giving, limited public debate and a less informed audience,” he said.
Mr Mudd said the new policies would be unpopular with some, but the company decided moving forward was the best solution.
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“Like many of our decisions, it was not a simple choice and required a balance of competing interests where there was a two-way advocacy,” he said. He added that some of the ad changes had been under discussion since 2016.
Augustine Fou, an independent ad fraud researcher, said advertising on Facebook and its other apps has long worked “better than any ad posted elsewhere because Facebook has years of people providing information, and that’s enough. precise “. He added that personalized advertising outside the platform was often based on guesswork that was “so inaccurate that when you try to target based on that, you’re worse than trying to spray and pray.”
Yet Meta has often struggled to leverage consumer data without abusing it.
“Of course, Facebook can infer that you are gay or that you are African American, but the question then becomes whether it is ethical to use these categories for targeting,” Mr. Fou said.
The new changes do not mean that Meta is exiting ad targeting. The company will still allow it for tens of thousands of other categories, which some critics have said advertisers could use to achieve similar targeting as the deleted topics gave them. Meta added that it will continue to use tools such as geo-targeting.
The company also said it would allow users, who can already limit their exposure to ads on topics such as politics and alcohol, to start blocking gambling and weight loss-related promotions early in the year. next year.
“We continue to believe strongly in personalized advertising, and truly personalized experiences overall are at the heart of who we are and what we do,” said Mr. Mudd.
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