Facebook to restrict ad targeting for youths under 18

Facebook is limiting the options advertisers have to reach youths under 18. The tech giant said in a blog post that its social media platforms Facebook and Instagram "weren’t designed for people under the age of 13", and would default youths (under the age of 16 or 18, depending on the country) into private accounts when they sign up for an Instagram account. It also said that it would develop AI to find and remove those who are underaged, as well as new solutions to verify people's ages without collecting ID.

Advertising targeting options such as those based on interests or activity on other sites will no longer be available to advertisers for those under 18. Advertisers will only be able to target ads to this age group based on their age, gender and location, said the blog post. Although there are internal ad settings that hand users sovereignty to personalise their ad preferences, Facebook is taking a more precautionary approach to how advertisers can reach young people.

The company explained that youths "may not be well equipped" to make the decisions regarding the ads they want to see. The app will notify users about targeting options that advertisers can use to reach them and the tools provided to control their ad experience once they turn 18.

Earlier this year in April, lobby group Reset Australia found that while Facebook will not allow the advertising of alcohol and other age-inappropriate content to people under 18, it "does not prevent advertisers from targeting children determined by Facebook’s profile to have an interest in alcohol, for advertising that might not appear explicitly to be about those topics", reported The Guardian. Reset Australia then called on the federal government to develop a code to regulate the collection and use of youths' data, and said that there should be express consent from children and parents, as well as full transparency over how the data is used, with only necessary data collected.

The move also follows Facebook's previous proposal to develop a version of Instagram for "tweens" (children 13 and under), which faced backlash from lawmakers in the same month, as reported by WSJ. While Facebook said that this was a countermeasure to how young users often lie about their age to sign up for a social media account, Democratic lawmakers warned against the impacts on mental health from encouraging the use of social media at such a young age, with a group of more than 40 state attorneys writing to Zuckerberg to "ditch the idea", reported Reuters.

Separately, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that it will be creating a product team to work on the "metaverse", in hopes to transition into a metaverse company instead of being seen as a social media company. According to Zuckerberg, a "metaverse" is a digital world where people can move between different devices and communicate in a virtual environment, an "embodied internet" where users are inhabiting it instead of viewing content from it, Reuters said

The concept of a metaverse has been introduced in video games such as Roblox, Fortnite and Animal Crossing: New Horizons in which players can build their own worlds, reported The New York Times. It refers to a "variety of virtual experiences, environments and assets that gained momentum during the online-everything shift of the pandemic", such as that of non-fungible tokens, cryptocurrency and attending virtual conferences or events using a digital avatar.

Andrew Bosworth, vice president of augmented and virtual reality at Facebook, said in a post that the new team will be part of the company's VR organisation. He said that while VR technology such as Portal and Oculus can teleport users into a room with another person, regardless of physical distance, or to new virtual worlds and experiences, the "full vision of the Metaverse" will need the building of "connective tissue between these spaces".

Facebook has been investing heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies, reported Reuters. Zuckerberg said that it "made sense to invest deeply" to shape what he bets will be the next big computing platform.

"I believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it," he said on his Monday Facebook post. 

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