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Meta Relents, Shares Ad Targeting Data

Meta is pledging to provide researchers with more information on the targeting of social issue, electoral and political ads on Facebook and Instagram.

In an update, the company says that new data will be offered through the Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) project, starting from the end of this month.

Data will be provided for each individual ad, and will include information such as the interest categories chosen by advertisers.

And from July, the company’s publicly available Ad Library will also include a summary of targeting information for ads run after launch. This will include data on the total number of social issue, electoral and political ads a Page ran, using each type of targeting – for example, location, demographics and interests – and the percentage of social issue, electoral and political ad spend used to target those options.

“We’ll also include whether a Page used Custom Audiences and/or lookalike audiences,” says Jeff King, VP of business integrity.

“For example, the Ad Library could show that over the last 30 days, a Page ran 2,000 ads about social issues, elections or politics, and that 40% of their spend on these ads was targeted to “people who live in Pennsylvania” or “people who are interested in politics.”

Previous efforts by researchers to share similar data have been countered by Meta. Last summer, for example, the company banned the accounts of researchers working at New York University’s Ad Observer project, which aimed to cast light on the microtargeting of political ads. I

t shut down CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring tool showing trending topics, public accounts and communities and viral posts on Facebook and Instagram, and blocked ProPublica’s Ad Transparency tools.

Now, though, the company is facing new rules on ad targeting from the EU. Paid political advertising will be banned, and micro-targeting on the basis of sensitive personal data such as ethnic origin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation will be banned unless the user gives explicit consent. Notably, ads will have to explain the basis on which a person is targeted, which groups of individuals were targeted, the criteria used and the amplification tools or methods deployed.

In making this update, Meta says it’s consulted external experts in the academic community and civil society.

“By making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters on our technologies,” says King.

“We are committed to providing meaningful transparency, while also protecting people’s privacy.”