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Meta restricts ad targeting of teens on Instagram and Facebook

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

January 10, 2023 | 5 min read

The tech company is making a raft of changes to its ad targetting, driven by internal and external challenges.

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Teens’ previous interactions with posts will no longer inform the content of the ads to which they are exposed

New changes to Meta’s ad targeting, announced today (January 10), relate to how young people are marketed to on its platforms. Specifically, teens’ previous interactions with posts will no longer inform the content of the ads to which they are exposed.

The release announcing the changes states that: “Age and location will be the only information about a teen that we’ll use to show them ads. Age and location help us continue to ensure teens see ads that are meant for their age and products and services available where they live.”

The move is an extension of changes brought in last year, additionally removing the ability to target products based on criteria including gender.

Teens can continue to choose to hide any or all ads from a specific advertiser. The topics already restricted in Meta’s policies will be set to ‘see less’ by default, so teens can’t choose to opt-in to content that may not be age appropriate.

The change is explicitly called a ‘restriction’ in advertisers’ capabilities when it comes to reaching teens. The ability to target teens with relevant advertising is contentious, particularly in light of concerns about the mental health impact of social media advertising. As a result, this change is likely in service of allaying those fears and – from Meta’s point of view – fending off any further regulatory strictures imposed on Facebook and Instagram.

Meta has also committed to providing documentation designed to inform teens how their data is being used for advertising purposes. The press release states that the changes “reflect research, direct feedback from parents and child developmental experts, UN children’s rights principles and global regulation”.

Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority found that 3.8% of ads served to 11-17-year-olds on social media in general were for restricted products, including alcohol. It is, therefore, both a regulatory and reputational concern for social media platforms and the brands that advertise with them, which run the risk of fines and further regulations should they fall short of their commitments.

Wider changes

These changes reflect a wider adjustment to privacy across Meta’s advertising ecosystem. The company is still being affected by Apple’s changes to its privacy setting. The EU has also just passed judgment on Meta’s ability to use consent at the point of sign-up to process data under GDPR.

Meta is appealing the EU’s ruling and states that its approach to data gathering was previously acceptable to the Data Protection Commission. It states: “There has been a lack of regulatory clarity on this issue and the debate among regulators and policymakers around which legal basis is most appropriate in a given situation has been ongoing for some time.”

Meta has also just announced the live launch of its Variance Reduction System (VRS), designed “to help advance the equitable distribution of ads on Meta technologies”. While the current product is designed specifically to aid with housing advertising in the US, it has also announced it will extend its use to US employment and credit ads in the near future.

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