Democrats press Facebook over 'inconsistency' on ad targeting for teens

A trio of Democrats in Congress are pushing Facebook to address accusations that the company misled lawmakers and the public about its new policy banning advertisers from targeting young users on the platform.

Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenators seek to curb counterfeit toys and goods sold online Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pledged money not going to Indigenous causes MORE (D-Mass.) and Reps. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorHillicon Valley — Feds issue Thanksgiving cybersecurity warning Democrats press Facebook over 'inconsistency' on ad targeting for teens House climate panel chair: 'We just don't have any more time to waste' MORE (D-Fla.) and Lori TrahanLori A. TrahanHillicon Valley — Feds issue Thanksgiving cybersecurity warning Democrats press Facebook over 'inconsistency' on ad targeting for teens Four big takeaways from a tough hearing for Facebook MORE (D-Mass.) sent the social media giant a letter Monday asking the company to address an “apparent inconsistency” about its ad targeting policy for teens after a recent report indicated the company was still collecting data from teenage users, which comes after the company announced publicly it would limit advertisers' ability to target teens.

“Facebook’s announcement that it would limit ad targeting to users under the age of 18 implicitly acknowledged the harms that targeted advertisements pose to young people, and Facebook explicitly stated it was committed to taking a ‘more precautionary approach’ in its advertising practices when it announced its policy change. Unfortunately, new research suggests that harmful advertising practices on Facebook continue,” the lawmakers wrote. 

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They’re asking the company to provide detailed responses about its ad targeting policy for users under 18 by Dec. 13. 

A spokesperson for Meta, the new parent company name for Facebook, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Facebook in July said it would stop allowing advertisers to target ads to teens across the flagship platform and Instagram. Said ads were previously based on users’ activity on other app and websites. 

Facebook’s head of global safety Antigone Davis doubled down on the comments at a Senate hearing in September when she told lawmakers, “We have very limited advertising to young people. You can only actually now target a young person based on their gender, age, or location.”

The senators' letter cites a recent report released by the groups Reset Australia, Fairplay and Global Action Plan, which found that Facebook collected data from three accounts the groups registered with ages set to under 18 years old. 

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The groups, along with a coalition of 43 others, sent a letter to Facebook accusing the company of misleading the public about its policies based on the report’s findings and urging the company to reveal in “full detail” how teens receive targeted ads. 

Joe Osborne, a spokesperson for Meta, pushed back on the report in a statement at the time of its release. He said “it’s wrong to say that because we show data in our transparency tools it’s automatically used for ads.”

“We don’t use data from our advertisers' and partners' websites and apps to personalize ads to people under 18. The reason this information shows up in our transparency tools is because teens visit sites or apps that use our business tools. We want to provide transparency into the data we receive, even if it's not used for ads personalization,” the spokesperson said in the statement.