Facebook today announced it will stop letting advertisers use certain targeting options related to “sensitive” characteristics such as race, religion, sexual orientation, health causes, and political beliefs. In today’s announcement, Facebook owner Meta said:
Starting January 19, 2022 we will remove Detailed Targeting options that relate to topics people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referencing causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation. Examples include:
- Health causes (e.g., “Lung cancer awareness,” “World Diabetes Day,” “Chemotherapy”)
- Sexual orientation (e.g., “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT culture”)
- Religious practices and groups (e.g., “Catholic Church” and “Jewish holidays”)
- Political beliefs, social issues, causes, organizations, and figures
Facebook cites concerns from civil rights experts
Facebook’s Detailed Targeting feature lets advertisers buy ads that are displayed to narrow groups of people. This is also known as “microtargeting.” Facebook said it decided to make these changes to “address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers, and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options we make available.”
“It is important to note that 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,” Facebook wrote. “However, 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.”
According to Axios, the “new ban will apply to all of the apps owned by Meta, including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Facebook’s Audience Network.”
Facebook said it will also give users more control over what ads they see. “Today, people can opt to see fewer ads related to politics, parenting, alcohol, and pets,” the blog post said. “Early next year, we will be giving people control of more types of ad content, including gambling and weight loss, among others.”
Facebook’s blog post defended personalized advertising in general, saying it helps users “discover products and services from small businesses that may not have the ability to market them on broadcast television or other forms of media” and helps “non-profits, social causes and organizations to reach the people most likely to support and benefit from them.”
Facebook’s privacy controversies
Separately, Facebook last week said it will shut down the facial recognition system used to automatically tag people in photos and delete the facial recognition templates of more than 1 billion people. But the commitment to not use facial recognition on Facebook does not extend to other Meta products, and “Meta is already exploring ways to incorporate biometrics into its emerging metaverse business,” according to a Recode article.
In a new interview, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen warned that Zuckerberg’s metaverse plan will invade workers’ privacy. “Facebook should have a transparency plan for the metaverse before they start building all this stuff because they’ve demonstrated with regard to Facebook that they can hide behind a wall, they keep making unforced errors, they keep making things that prioritize their own profits over our safety,” Haugen said.