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Meta will restrict ad targeting based on thousands of sensitive topics

Ethnicity, politics and religion are some of the affected subjects.
People pose in front of a sign of Meta, the new name for the company formerly known as Facebook, at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S. October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Reuters / Carlos Barria
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|November 9, 2021 5:24 PM

Meta will crack down further on potentially harmful ads. The New York Times reports Meta is removing detailed ad targeting options for "thousands" of sensitive topics on Facebook, Instagram and other services starting January 19th, 2022. The move will bar ads based on interactions with content related to ethnicity, health, political beliefs, religion and sexual orientation, among other hot-button issues.

It's a drastic move, and Meta was aware this could hurt some businesses and positive ad uses. However, VP Graham Mudd said the outgoing options could lead to "negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups." The internet giant believed it could refine its ad platform to serve everyone without hurting business connections.

The company is also giving you more control over the ads you see. In early 2022, you'll have the option to see fewer ads linked to gambling, weight loss and other delicate subjects. You can already limit the frequency of ads for alcohol, parenting, pets and politics.

The stricter ad policies come the same day as Meta's latest transparency report and an overall effort to counter whistleblower Frances Haugen's accusations that the company is more interested in engagement and revenue than the well-being of its users. A 2020 audit concluded Meta fell short on efforts to combat discrimination, including ads. The firm removed targeting for thousands of sensitive ad topics in 2017 and 2018 (including auto-generated anti-Semitic categories), but there's clearly ongoing pressure to show Meta can clean up its ad business.

Meta will still have plenty of ad targeting, including location-based ads, custom audiences and permission-based customer lists. However, this could easily push some marketers to rethink their strategies. This may help by reducing the number of exploitative ads, but it could also hurt the relevancy of those ads you do see.