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Facebook plans to remove sensitive ad targeting options

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Facebook Inc said on Tuesday it plans to remove detailed ad-targeting options that refer to “sensitive” topics, such as ads based on interactions with content around race, health, religious practices, political beliefs or sexual orientation.

The company, which recently changed its name to Meta and which makes the vast majority of its revenue through digital advertising, has been under intense scrutiny over its ad-targeting abilities and rules in recent years.

In a blog post, Facebook gave examples of targeting categories that would no longer be allowed on its platforms, such as “Lung cancer awareness,” “World Diabetes Day”, “LGBT culture”, “Jewish holidays” or political beliefs and social issues. It said the change would take place starting January 19, 2022.

The company has been hit with criticisms around its micro-targeting capabilities, including over abuses such as advertisers discriminating against or targeting vulnerable groups. In 2019, it agreed to make changes to its ads platform as part of a settlement over housing discrimination issues.

“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,” said Graham Mudd, the company’s vice president of product marketing for ads, in the post.

Its tailored ad abilities are used by wide-ranging advertisers, including political campaigns and social issue groups as well as businesses.

“The decision to remove these Detailed Targeting options was not easy and we know this change may negatively impact some businesses and organizations,” Mudd said in the post, adding some advertising partners were concerned they would not be able to use these adds to generate positive social change.

Advertisers on Facebook’s platforms can still target audiences by location, use their own customer lists, reach custom audiences who have engaged with their content and send ads to people with similar characteristics to those users.

The move marks a key shift for the company’s approach to social and political advertising, though it is not expected to have major financial implications. CEO Mark Zuckerberg estimated in 2019, for example, that politicians’ ads would make up less than 0.5% of Facebook’s 2020 revenue.

The issue of political advertising on social media platforms, including whether the content of politicians’ ads should be fact-checked, provoked much debate among the public, lawmakers and companies around the U.S. presidential election.

Twitter Inc in 2019 banned political ads altogether, but Facebook had previously said it would not limit how political advertisers reached potential voters.

Facebook, which now allows users to opt to see fewer ads related to topics like politics and alcohol, said on Tuesday it would early next year give people more controls over the ads they see, including ones about gambling and weight loss.

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