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Facebook ads have enabled discrimination based on gender, race and age. We need to …



Social media platforms are transforming how online advertising works and, in turn, raising concerns about new forms of discrimination and predatory marketing.

Today the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision Making and Society (ADM+S) — a multi-university entity led by RMIT — launched the Australian Ad Observatory. This research project will explore how platforms target Australian users with ads.

The goal is to foster a conversation about the need for public transparency in online advertising.

The rise of ‘dark ads’

In the mass media era, advertising was (for the most part) public. This meant it was open to scrutiny. When advertisers behaved illegally or irresponsibly, the results were there for many to see.

And the history of advertising is riddled with irresponsible behaviour. We’ve witnessed tobacco and alcohol companies engage in the predatory targeting of women, underage people and socially disadvantaged communities. We’ve seen the use of sexist and racist stereotypes. More recently, the circulation of misinformation has become a major concern.

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When such practices take place in the open, they can be responded to by media watchdogs, citizens and regulators. On the other hand, the rise of online advertising — which is tailored to individuals and delivered on personal devices — reduces public accountability.

These so-called “dark ads” are visible only to the targeted user. They are hard to track, since an ad may only appear a few times before disappearing. Also, the user doesn’t know whether the ads they see are being shown to others, or whether they’re being singled-out based on their identity data.

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Severe consequences

There’s a lack of transparency surrounding the automated systems Facebook employs to target users with ads, as well as recommendations it provides to advertisers.

In 2017 investigative journalists at ProPublica were able to purchase a test ad on Facebook targeting users associated with the term “Jew hater”. In response to the attempted ad purchase, Facebook’s automated system suggested additional targeting categories including “how to burn Jews”.

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Facebook removed the categories after being confronted with the findings. Without the scrutiny of the investigators, might they have endured indefinitely?

Researchers’ concern about dark ads continues to grow. In the past, Facebook has made it possible to advertise for housing, credit, and employment based on race, gender and age.


Investigative reports at ProPublica purchased an ad in Facebook’s housing categories via the company’s advertising portal. The ad purchased was targeted to Facebook users who were house hunting, but excluded anyone with an ‘ethnic affinity’ for being African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic.
Julia Angwin and Terry Parris Jr/ProPublica, CC BY

This year it was found delivering targeted ads for military gear alongside posts about the attack on the US Capitol. It also enabled ads targeting African Americans during the 2016 US presidential campaign to suppress voter turnout.

Public support for transparency

It’s not always clear whether such offences are deliberate or not. Nevertheless they’ve become a feature of the extensive automated ad-targeting systems used by commercial digital platforms, and the opportunity for harm is ever-present — deliberate or otherwise.

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Most examples of problematic Facebook advertising come from the United States, as this is where the bulk of research on this issue is conducted. But it’s equally important to scrutinise the issue in other countries, including in Australia. And Australians agree.

Research published on Tuesday and conducted by Essential Media (on behalf of the ADM+S Centre) has revealed strong support for transparency in advertising. More than three-quarters of Australian Facebook users responded Facebook “should be more transparent about how it distributes advertising on its news feed”.

With this goal in mind, the Australian Ad Observatory developed a version of an online tool created by ProPublica to let members of the public anonymously share the ads they receive on Facebook with reporters and researchers.

The tool will allow us to see how ads are being targeted to Australians based on demographic characteristics such as age, ethnicity and income. It is available as a free plugin for anyone to install on their web browser (and can be removed or disabled at any time).

Importantly, the plug-in does not collect any personally-identifying information. Participants are invited to provide some basic, non-identifying, demographic information when they install it, but this is voluntary. The plug-in only captures the text and images in ads labelled as “sponsored content” which appear in users’ news feeds.

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Facebook’s online ad library does provide some level of visibility into its targeted ad practises — but this isn’t comprehensive.

The ad library only provides limited information about how ads are targeted, and excludes some ads based on the number of people reached. It’s also not reliable as an archive, since the ads disappear when no longer in use.

The need for public interest research

Despite its past failings, Facebook has been hostile towards outsider attempts to ensure accountability. For example, it recently demanded researchers at New York University discontinue their research into how political ads are targeted on Facebook.

When they refused, Facebook cut-off their access to its platform. The tech company claimed it had to ban the research because it was bound by a settlement with the United States’ Federal Trade Commission over past privacy violations.

However, the Federal Trade Commission publicly rejected this claim and emphasised its support for public interest research intended “to shed light on opaque business practices, especially around surveillance-based advertising”.

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Platforms should be required to provide universal transparency for how they advertise. Until this happens, projects like the Australian Ad Observatory plugin can help provide some accountability. To participate, or for more information, visit the website.

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Introducing Facebook Graph API v18.0 and Marketing API v18.0





Today, we are releasing Facebook Graph API v18.0 and Marketing API v18.0. As part of this release, we are highlighting changes below that we believe are relevant to parts of our developer community. These changes include announcements, product updates, and notifications on deprecations that we believe are relevant to your application(s)’ integration with our platform.

For a complete list of all changes and their details, please visit our changelog.

General Updates

Consolidation of Audience Location Status Options for Location Targeting

As previously announced in May 2023, we have consolidated Audience Location Status to our current default option of “People living in or recently in this location” when choosing the type of audience to reach within their Location Targeting selections. This update reflects a consolidation of other previously available options and removal of our “People traveling in this location” option.

We are making this change as part of our ongoing efforts to deliver more value to businesses, simplify our ads system, and streamline our targeting options in order to increase performance efficiency and remove options that have low usage.

This update will apply to new or duplicated campaigns. Existing campaigns created prior to launch will not be entered in this new experience unless they are in draft mode or duplicated.

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Add “add_security_recommendation” and “code_expiration_minutes” to WA Message Templates API

Earlier this year, we released WhatsApp’s authentication solution which enabled creating and sending authentication templates with native buttons and preset authentication messages. With the release of Graph API v18, we’re making improvements to the retrieval of authentication templates, making the end-to-end authentication template process easier for BSPs and businesses.

With Graph API v18, BSPs and businesses can have better visibility into preset authentication message template content after creation. Specifically, payloads will return preset content configuration options, in addition to the text used by WhatsApp. This improvement can enable BSPs and businesses to build “edit” UIs for authentication templates that can be constructed on top of the API.

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Note that errors may occur when upgrading to Graph API v18 if BSPs or businesses are taking the entire response from the GET request and providing it back to the POST request to update templates. To resolve, the body/header/footer text fields should be dropped before passing back into the API.

Re-launching dev docs and changelogs for creating Call Ads

  • Facebook Reels Placement for Call Ads

    Meta is releasing the ability to deliver Call Ads through the Facebook Reels platform. Call ads allow users to call businesses in the moment of consideration when they view an ad, and help businesses drive more complex discussions with interested users. This is an opportunity for businesses to advertise with call ads based on peoples’ real-time behavior on Facebook. Under the Ad set Level within Ads Manager, businesses can choose to add “Facebook Reels” Under the Placements section.
  • Re-Launching Call Ads via API

    On September 12, 2023, we’re providing updated guidance on how to create Call Ads via the API. We are introducing documentation solely for Call Ads, so that 3P developers can more easily create Call Ads’ campaigns and know how to view insights about their ongoing call ad campaigns, including call-related metrics. In the future, we also plan to support Call Add-ons via our API platform. Developers should have access to the general permissions necessary to create general ads in order to create Call Ads via the API platform.

    Please refer to developer documentation for additional information.

Deprecations & Breaking Changes

Graph API changes for user granular permission feature

We are updating two graph API endpoints for WhatsAppBusinessAccount. These endpoints are as follows:

  • Retrieve message templates associated with WhatsAppBusiness Account
  • Retrieve phone numbers associated with WhatsAppBusiness Account

With v18, we are rolling out a new feature “user granular permission”. All existing users who are already added to WhatsAppBusinessAccount will be backfilled and will continue to have access (no impact).

The admin has the flexibility to change these permissions. If the admin changes the permission and removes access to view message templates or phone numbers for one of their users, that specific user will start getting an error message saying you do not have permission to view message templates or phone numbers on all versions v18 and older.

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Deprecate legacy metrics naming for IG Media and User Insights

Starting on September 12, Instagram will remove duplicative and legacy, insights metrics from the Instagram Graph API in order to share a single source of metrics to our developers.

This new upgrade reduces any confusion as well as increases the reliability and quality of our reporting.

After 90 days of this launch (i.e. December 11, 2023), we will remove all these duplicative and legacy insights metrics from the Instagram Graph API on all versions in order to be more consistent with the Instagram app.

We appreciate all the feedback that we’ve received from our developer community, and look forward to continuing to work together.

Please review the media insights and user insights developer documentation to learn more.

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Deprecate all Facebook Wi-Fi v1 and Facebook Wi-Fi v2 endpoints

Facebook Wi-Fi was designed to improve the experience of connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots at businesses. It allowed a merchant’s customers to get free Wi-Fi simply by checking in on Facebook. It also allowed merchants to control who could use their Wi-Fi and for how long, and integrated with ads to enable targeting to customers who had used the merchant’s Wi-Fi. This product was deprecated on June 12, 2023. As the partner notice period has ended, all endpoints used by Facebook Wi-Fi v1 and Facebook Wi-Fi v2 have been deprecated and removed.

API Version Deprecations:

As part of Facebook’s versioning schedule for Graph API and Marketing API, please note the upcoming deprecations:

Graph API

  • September 14, 2023: Graph API v11.0 will be deprecated and removed from the platform
  • February 8, 2024: Graph API v12.0 will be deprecated and removed from the platform
  • May 28, 2024: Graph API v13.0 will be deprecated and removed from the platform

Marketing API

  • September 20, 2023: Marketing API v14.0 will be deprecated and removed from the platform
  • September 20, 2023: Marketing API v15.0 will be deprecated and removed from the platform
  • February 06, 2024: Marketing API v16.0 will be deprecated and removed from the platform

To avoid disruption to your business, we recommend migrating all calls to the latest API version that launched today.

Facebook Platform SDK

As part of our 2-year deprecation schedule for Platform SDKs, please note the upcoming deprecations and sunsets:

  • October 2023: Facebook Platform SDK v11.0 or below will be sunset
  • February 2024: Facebook Platform SDK v12.0 or below will be sunset

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Allowing Users to Promote Stories as Ads (via Marketing API)





Before today (August 28, 2023), advertisers could not promote images and/or videos used in Instagram Stories as ads via the Instagram Marketing API. This process created unwanted friction for our partners and their customers.

After consistently hearing about this pain point from our developer community, we have removed this unwanted friction for advertisers and now allow users to seamlessly promote their image and/or video media used in Instagram Stories as ads via the Instagram Marketing API as of August 28, 2023.

We appreciate all the feedback received from our developer community, and hope to continue improving your experience.

Please review the developer documentation to learn more.

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Launching second release of Facebook Reels API: An enterprise solution for desktop and web publishers





We’re excited to announce that the second release of FB Reels API is now publicly available for third-party developers. FB Reels API enables users of third-party platforms to share Reels directly to public Facebook Pages and the New Pages Experience.

FB Reels API has grown significantly since the first release in September 2022. The new version of the APIs now support custom thumbnails, automatic music tagging, tagging collaborators, longer format of reels and better error handling.

FB Reels API will also support scheduling and draft capability to allow creators to take advantage of tools provided either by Meta or by our partners. Based on the feedback we received from our partners, we’ll now provide additional audio insights via the Audio Recommendations API and reels performance metrics via the Insights API.

Our goal in the next couple of releases is to continue to make it easier for creators to develop quality content by adding features like early copyright detection and A/B testing. We’re also excited to start working on enhanced creation features like Video clipping- so stay tuned to hear more about those features in the future.


If you are a developer interested in integrating with the Facebook Reels API, please refer to the Developer Documents for more info.

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Not sure if this product is for you? Check out our entire suite of sharing offerings.

Tune in to Product @scale event to learn more about FB Video APIs and hear from some of our customers.

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