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Facebook and Instagram will limit ads targeting teens based on gender (updated)

Gender is also off-limits.

Kar-Tr via Getty Images

Meta is taking more steps to limit potentially harmful ad campaigns. The company is placing more restrictions on advertisers' ability to target teens. From February onward, Facebook and Instagram will no longer let marketers aim ads at teens based on gender — only age and location.

In March, Meta will expand the ad preferences in Facebook and Instagram to let teens see fewer sales pitches for a given topic. Teens could already hide the ads from specific advertisers, but this gives them the choice of automatically downplaying whole categories like TV dramas or footwear.

The social media giant has put ever-tighter restrictions on the content teens can access. In 2021, Facebook and Instagram barred advertisers from using teens' interests to target ads. Instagram also made accounts private by default for teens under 16, and this year limited sensitive content for all new teen users. Meta has likewise limited the ability of "suspicious" adults to message teens on both platforms.

This is the second major ad policy change in a week. Just a day before, Meta rolled out an AI-based system meant to reduce discriminatory ad distribution. The technology is launching as part of a settlement with the federal government over charges that Facebook let companies target ads based on ethnicity, gender and other protected classes.

As with those earlier efforts, Meta has a strong incentive to act. The attorneys general of 10 states are investigating Instagram's effects on teens, while the European Union recently fined Meta the equivalent of $402 million for allegedly mishandling privacy settings for younger users. Governments are concerned that Meta might be exploiting teens' usage habits or exposing them to threats, including content that could lead to mental health issues. The new protections won't solve these problems by themselves, but they might show officials that Meta is serious about curbing ads that prey on teens.

Update 1/10 2:39PM ET: Meta says it already prevents ads from targeting teens based on follows and likes. We've updated the story accordingly.