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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 Tuesday that it plans to eliminate the ability for advertisers to target people with promotions based on their interactions with content related to health , Race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation are based on orientation and thousands of other topics.

The move, which goes into effect January 19, affects advertisers in Metas Apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, as well as the company’s Audience Network, which places advertisements in third-party apps. The Silicon Valley company said it was making the changes to limit misuse of its targeting tools. In the past, these features were used to discriminate against people or to spam them with unsolicited messages.

“We heard concerns from experts that targeting options like this could be used in ways that could lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups,” said Graham Mudd, vice president of product marketing at Meta.

Meta uses targeted advertising for the majority of its annual revenue of $ 86 billion. The company has excelled in providing advertisers with a place to personalize promotions, often allowing brands to target their ads to Facebook, Instagram and Messenger users interested in topics as specific as LGBTQ culture or Catholicism . Such tailored ads often have a better chance of sparking a sale or getting users to join a specific Facebook group or support an online organization than more general ads.

But Meta has also faced a litany of complaints in which advertisers are abusing these targeting skills.

Before the US Capitol was stormed on January 6, for example, advertisers used targeting tools to advertise body armor, holsters and rifle reinforcements to right-wing militia groups on Facebook. In 2020, auditors 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 landlords and home sellers to unfairly restrict who could see ads for their properties on the platform based on traits such as race, religion and national origin. And in 2017, ProPublica found that Facebook’s algorithms had generated ad categories for users interested in topics like “Jew haters” and “How to burn Jews”.

In response to the abuse, the social network has optimized its ad targeting tools over time. In 2018, 5,000 ad targeting classifications were removed to prevent advertisers from excluding certain users. According to the ProPublica report, Facebook has also deactivated the anti-Semitic ad categories.

But the latest changes from Meta could be unpopular with the millions of companies who rely on the company’s tools to expand their audiences and build their businesses. Advertising tailored to people’s interests on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger is often cheaper and more effective than advertising on television and other media.

These organizations include political groups 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 advertisements from its websites during the presidential election; the restriction was lifted in March. Some campaigns said the move benefited established businesses and larger organizations that weren’t counting on small donations through Facebook.

Republicans and Democrats blew up Meta’s changes on Tuesday. Reid Vineis, a vice president of Majority Strategies, a digital ad buying company that works with Republicans, said in an email statement that the social network has gone from the “gold standard for political advertising” to barriers between campaigns and voters.

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

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

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A tech giant in trouble. The leak of internal documents by a former Facebook employee has given an intimate glimpse into the operations of the secret social media company and again made calls for better regulation of the company’s wide reach into the lives of its users.

The whistleblower. During an interview with “60 Minutes,” which aired October 3, Frances Haugen, a Facebook product manager who left the company in May, announced that she was responsible for the leakage of these internal documents.

Statement by Ms. Haugen in Congress. On October 5, Ms. Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee, saying that Facebook was ready to use hateful and harmful content on its website to get users to come back. Facebook managers, including Mark Zuckerberg, called their allegations untrue.

The Facebook papers. Ms. Haugen also filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission and made the documents available to Congress in edited form. A member of Congress then delivered the documents known as the Facebook Papers to several news organizations, including the New York Times.

“As with many of our decisions, this was not an easy decision and required a balancing of competing interests where there was a two-way lobby,” he said. He added that some of the ad changes were being discussed since 2016.

Augustine Fou, an independent ad fraud researcher, said advertising on Facebook and its other apps “worked better than any other display ad elsewhere for a long time because Facebook volunteered information for years, and this is pretty accurate”. He added that off-platform personalized advertising was often based on guesswork that was “so very inaccurate that if you try to target based on it, you’re worse off than trying to spray and pray”.

However, Meta often had problems using consumer data without misusing it.

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

The new changes don’t mean Meta is giving up ad targeting. The company will continue to allow tens of thousands of other categories that some critics believe advertisers could use to achieve a similar targeting to the topics removed. Meta added that it would continue to use tools like geographic targeting.

The company also said it could block gambling and weight loss-related promotions early next year to users who already have the ability to limit their exposure to ads on topics like politics and alcohol.

“We remain a firm believer in personalized advertising, and frankly, overall personalized experiences are at the core of who we are and what we do,” said Mudd.

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