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Politics: Facebook, Instagram to limit targeted ads for teen users

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Facebook will stop allowing advertisers to target ads to teenage users across its platforms, including Instagram and Facebook Messenger, based on the users' activity on other apps and websites, the social media giant said Tuesday.

a hand holding a remote control: Facebook, Instagram to limit targeted ads for teen users © Getty Facebook, Instagram to limit targeted ads for teen users

Advertisers will only be able to target ads to users under 18 based on their age, gender and location. The new policy limits them from using previously available information, such as what a user is searching or shopping for through a different website or app, to target specific ads.

The update will begin "in a few weeks," and the age cut-off may be older than 18 in certain countries, according to the company's announcement.

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It follows pressure from advocacy groups that have warned against the dangers of targeted advertising, especially for young users.

"We already give people ways to tell us that they would rather not see ads based on their interests or on their activities on other websites and apps, such as through controls within our ad settings. But we've heard from youth advocates that young people may not be well equipped to make these decisions. We agree with them, which is why we're taking a more precautionary approach in how advertisers can reach young people with ads," the platform said in the announcement.

But as Facebook pledges to rein in targeted advertising for young users, it is also pushing forward with a controversial plan to create an Instagram for kids that has drawn criticism from advocacy groups and lawmakers.

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"We believe that encouraging them to use an experience that is age appropriate and managed by parents is the right path. It's going to take a village to make this experience compelling enough so that this age group wants to use it, but we're determined to get it right," Pavni Diwanji, Facebook's vice president of youth products, said in a blog post.

The company pledged to work with experts and elected officials as it moves forward with the process. The social media giant has previously said any version of Instagram it develops for kids will not display ads.

As it pursues plans to create such a platform for kids, the tech giant said it is using artificial intelligence technology to better estimate users' ages in an effort to limit those under 13 from joining the main platforms by putting in a false birth date.

For example, the technology looks to see if a user enters the same birth date on different linked accounts. It also looks at the age written in birthday messages to the user.

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The company on Monday also announced two Instagram-specific updates aimed at promoting safety for teen users.

The photo-sharing app will start defaulting users who are under 16 into private accounts. For those under 16 who already have a public account on Instagram, the platform will show a notification "highlighting the benefits of a private account" and explaining how to change their privacy settings, according to the announcement.

The other update aims to to stop "unwanted contact" from adults with "suspicious accounts." The platform is using a new technology it developed to find accounts that have shown "potentially suspicious behavior," for example accounts that may have recently been blocked or reported by a young user.

The platform will no longer show young users' accounts in its Explore, Reels or "Accounts Suggested For You" pages to the accounts identified as suspicious, and if identified accounts search for young users by their username they will not be able to follow them.

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