Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc will remove thousands of ad-targeting categories that helped marketers reach users of a particular race, ethnicity and religion — categories the social network says “may be perceived as sensitive.”
Meta’s Facebook and Instagram don’t ask users to share their race or religion, and don’t allow marketers to target consumers based on those topics. But the company does offer advertisers thousands of other targeting options that relate to sensitive user characteristics, and could be tapped to infer
information like race.
Meta identifies a user’s interests by observing the kinds of pages and ads those people interact with on Facebook or Instagram. For example, though Meta doesn’t let advertisers target users by a specific religion, they can aim marketing spots at those who have shown an interest in topics like “Catholic Church.” Brands can’t direct ads based on a user’s personal health, but they can filter for options like “chemotherapy” or “World Diabetes Day.”
Some targeting categories linked to politics and political causes will also be removed, though political advertisers will still be able to aim their messages using a number of other criteria, including email addresses.
Targeting options like “Catholic Church” and “chemotherapy” — along with thousands of others — will be removed in January.
“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,” Meta wrote in a blog post. The social media company came to the decision following discussions with advocacy groups and a civil rights audit looking into its products and practices that was published last year, said Graham Mudd, a vice president of product marketing for ads at Meta.
Meta has been criticised for years over some of its ad-targeting options. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Facebook in 2019 of allowing marketers to discriminate by limiting their housing ads from appearing for users based on traits such as gender and race — a practice that is barred by law.
Civil rights groups have also accused the company of enabling discriminatory advertising. In 2020, Facebook retired some targeting options that let marketers show messages to users with an “affinity” for a particular race. A civil rights audit that looked at the company’s advertising practices, among other issues, pointed out the “significant” impact that Meta’s ad
targeting can have.
Facebook ads “can help small businesses find new customers and build their customer base, and can enable nonprofits and public service organisations to get important information and resources to the communities that need them the most,” the audit read.
“They also can determine whether one learns of an advertised, available job, housing or credit opportunity, or does not.”