New Facebook Policy Bans Patient Targeted Advertisements
In response to feedback and criticism from various civil rights and policy groups, and in an attempt to prevent abuse of its platform, Facebook has implemented a new policy banning advertisements that specifically target users based on certain sensitive topics. The policy, which takes effect on January 19th, 2022, seems to be a step in the right direction regarding privacy but has its critics. Facebook "will remove Detailed Targeting options that relate to topics people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referencing causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation." However, Facebook notes that the targeting options being removed are based on people's interactions with content on the platform and not on people’s physical characteristics or personal attributes.
In the past, Facebook has enabled small businesses, non-profits, and advocacy groups, that promote social causes, to market their causes on the Facebook platform when other costly forms of media were not available to them. In addressing the forthcoming concerns these advertising partners may have related to the ban, Facebook has provided tips for these groups in the policy. These tips, which aim to help groups continue to reach their target audience(s), including implementing 'Engagement Custom Audiences' that include people who have already shown interest to build lookalike audiences and website custom audiences, in addition to utilizing location targeting and custom audience lists, when available.
Critics of the policy feel that removing the Detailed Targeting options will negatively impact some businesses and organizations. For example, Facebook has always been a valuable source in the recruitment of patients for clinical trials, and critics fear that the new policy will make it difficult to enlist diverse populations for research studies. However, privacy advocates argue that the healthcare industry won't suffer the loss from this kind of clinical trial recruitment because, as one advocate is quoted in saying, "[a]t the end of the day, the best salesperson is your doctor — it's not the internet."
While users may still see advertisements related to the content they are not interested in, the advertisements will no longer be targeted based on health-related, or other sensitive topic searches that the user may have conducted.
A copy of the Facebook Policy is available here.