CfA Statement on Facebook Ad Targeting Policy Change for Users Under 18

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) announced that it would stop allowing advertisers to target under-18 users on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger based on specific interest categories, and restrict targeting options to those users’ age, gender, and location. The change comes amidst scrutiny from lawmakers and organizations, including CfA’s Tech Transparency Project (TTP), who have criticized the platform for not doing enough to protect young users.

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Facebook Approved Inappropriate Ads Tragetting Kids

In May, TTP released a report showing that Facebook allows ads for alcoholic drinks, pharmaceuticals, extreme weight loss, and other potentially harmful age-restricted content to be targeted at children as young as 13 in the United States. TTP created a series of age-inappropriate test ads aimed at kids 13 to 17-years-old and found that Facebook approved them in a matter of hours. TTP canceled the ads after approval to ensure they did not reach any children. Facebook’s change appears intended to respond to criticism from TTP and others.

CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “This targeting update is one of many necessary to protect young Facebook users, but it’s just a half-measure. The question remains as to how and why inappropriate ad content makes it through the ad approval process in the first place.”

In TTP’s experiment, Facebook approved an ad featuring a vaping product specifically targeted to teens interested in ‘smoking.’ The only difference resulting from Facebook’s policy change is that a potential advertiser wishing to promote the same image will now have to target a broader audience of teens. Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “While Facebook may argue it is against its policy to advertise the sale of age-inappropriate products to teens, as long as the platform relies on AI rather than humans to approve its ads, such content will still make it through.”

About the Campaign for Accountability

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.

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