Facebook quietly removes ad filter to target users based on their relationship preferences

Facebook has quietly removed an ad filter that enabled advertisers to create campaigns targeting users based on their relationship preferences. The filter allowed advertisers to target people based on information from the “interested in” detail on their user profile. Users can select if they are interested in “women” or “men” — making it possible to build a campaign around a person’s sexual orientation.

BuzzFeed reported this week that the ad targeting option was removed last month, but Facebook made no public statement announcing advertisers could no longer use the “interested in” filter.

According to Facebook, the site is consistently in contact with privacy, civil rights, consumer and LGBTQ groups on a wide range of topics and is committed to reviewing its ad targeting options.

“Based on feedback from our community and outside experts, we’re removing the ability for organizations to target people based on the ‘interested in’ information from their profiles,” says Facebook’s product management director, Mary Ku.

A spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) told BuzzFeed that Facebook’s decision to remove the identity-based targeting option could prevent malicious behavior targeting the LGBTQ community. But Calvin Stowell, the chief growth officer for The Trevor Project — a nonprofit organization to help save suicidal LGBT youth — told BuzzFeed that Facebook’s decision to remove the ad filter has made his job more difficult.

“It’s really important to have that targeting be available,” Stowell told BuzzFeed. “We have a very limited budget, and so now I have to throw money at the wind, hoping it’s going to reach the group I want to reach.”

According to the BuzzFeed story, dating apps still have access to the ad filter because of a “legacy requirement,” but they will be losing the ability to target their ads by sexual orientation at the end of April.

Removing the “interested in” ad filter is one of several changes Facebook has made recently to address concerns around abusive and malicious advertising behavior on the platform. Last September, the site clamped down on ad filters that allowed users to base campaigns on self-reported user data after it was discovered that advertisers could target hate groups. In November, the site stopped allowing advertisers the ability to exclude racial groups from ad campaigns.

Facebook’s latest firestorm has centered around its suspension of Cambridge Analytica after admitting the analytics company had exploited user data. Five days after the Cambridge Analytica news broke, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally made a public statement about the issue, claiming he had been working to understand exactly what had happened.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and, if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you,” said Zuckerberg.

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