Facebook announced today that it will no longer allow advertisers to target users based on potentially “sensitive” topics such as health, sexual orientation, or religious and political beliefs. “Lung Cancer Awareness,” “LGBT Culture” and “Jewish Holidays” are just a few of the categories of interest that will no longer be targeted starting early next year.
“The decision to remove these detailed targeting options was not an easy one and we know this change may have a negative impact on some businesses and organizations,” the company wrote in a blog post, saying that contributions from Civil rights experts, policymakers and other stakeholders contributed to its decision. Ad revenue is Facebook’s main source of revenue, so any major change in advertising policy can have big ramifications.
Facebook may target users based on information provided in their profile, such as their age, location, or gender. But the platform has never been able to target people based on the sexual orientation shown in their profile, a company representative told TechCrunch. Instead, the ad that will be removed refers to the ads that are served based on the categories of interest in your profile.
Facebook assigns these categories of interest to your profile based on your activity. Depending on how you interact with Facebook content, you might be assigned categories that Facebook would qualify as “sensitive,” such as “American Jewish culture,” “LGBT rights,” or “Barack Obama.” As of January 19, advertisers will no longer be able to target their ads based on such interests. Other interest groups such as “climbing” and “knitting”, not being sensitive, could always be targeted – there is dozens of thousands of these categories, sensitive or not.
Users can see their profile’s Interest Groups by navigating on the desktop to Settings & Privacy> Settings> Announcements> Announcements Settings> Categories Used To Reach You> Interest Categories. If you do not wish to receive announcements based on a certain interest, you can unsubscribe.
The ad policy shift comes as Meta – the parent company newly renamed to the Facebook platform – comes under scrutiny after a series of Senate hearings related to documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen. As more documents leak to the press, Meta has gone on the defensive, claiming that some reporters’ reports have deformed his actions.
But Facebook’s advertising policy has been a concern for years. Prior to the 2020 US presidential election, Facebook placed limits on the types of political ads that could be created. In 2018, Facebook similarly removed more than 5,000 targeting options for ads after the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) filed an complaint against Facebook who accused him of helping homeowners and sellers violate the Fair Housing Act. Prior to that, in 2016, Facebook turned off “ethnic affinity” targeting for housing, employment and credit-related ads after a ProPublica report suggested that these abilities could be used for discriminatory advertising. When it comes to housing and employment, it is illegal to target ads based on certain demographics. Another ProPublica report urged Facebook to remove ad targeting based on anti-Semitic interest categories.
“We want to better respond to people’s changing expectations of how advertisers can reach them on our platform and respond to comments from civil rights experts, policymakers and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers to abuse the targeting options we make available, ”the company wrote in a blog post. “The decision to remove these detailed targeting options was not an easy one and we know this change can negatively impact some businesses and organizations. “
While Facebook said it made these decisions based on concerns about how data could be exploited by bad actors, there are instances where this data could be used in potentially positive ways, which has concerned some parties. stakeholders. For example, if someone is interested in “diabetes awareness,” they might be related to nonprofit organizations working to treat the disease.
Yet Facebook offers businesses a number of tools to reach specific audiences. If users have opted in to ad tracking on an iPhone, for example, Facebook advertisers can use this information for ad targeting. Businesses can also take advantage personalized engagement audiences, similar audiences and other techniques to reach users, as the company describes in its blog post.