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Meta Plans to Remove Thousands of Sensitive Ad-Targeting Categories

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Meta, the social media company formerly known as Facebook, said on Tuesday that it planned to eliminate advertisers’ ability to target people with promotions based on their interactions with content related to health, race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation and thousands of other topics.

The move, which takes effect on Jan. 19, affects advertisers on Meta’s apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Messenger and the company’s audience network, which places ads in third-party apps. The Silicon Valley company said it was making the changes to limit the way that its targeting tools can be abused. In the past, these features have been used to discriminate against people or to spam them with unwanted messaging.

“We’ve heard concerns from experts that targeting options like these could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups,” said Graham Mudd, a vice president of product marketing for Meta.

Meta relies on targeted advertising for the bulk of its $86 billion in annual revenue. The company has excelled at giving advertisers a place to personalize promotions, with brands often able to aim their ads at Facebook, Instagram and Messenger users who are interested in topics as specific as L.G.B.T.Q. culture or Catholicism. Such tailored ads often have a better chance of sparking a sale or prompting users to join a particular Facebook group or support an online organization than more generalized ads.

Join technology writer Shira Ovide, Reddit’s co-founder Steve Huffman and the drag queen Latrice Royale for a virtual discussion of what makes for robust internet communities.

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But Meta has also faced a litany of complaints about advertisers abusing these targeting abilities.

Before the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, for example, advertisers used targeting tools to direct promotions for body armor, gun holsters and rifle enhancements at far-right militia groups on Facebook. In 2020, auditors concluded that Facebook had not done enough to protect people who use its service from discriminatory posts and ads.

In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook for allowing landlords and home sellers to unfairly restrict who could see ads for their properties on the platform based on characteristics like race, religion and national origin. And in 2017, ProPublica found that Facebook’s algorithms had generated ad categories for users interested in topics such as “Jew hater” and “how to burn jews.”

In response to the abuse, the social network has tweaked its ad-targeting tools over time. In 2018, it removed 5,000 ad-targeting classifications to keep advertisers from excluding certain users. Facebook also disabled the anti-Semitic ad categories after the ProPublica report.

But Meta’s latest changes may be unpopular with the millions of organizations that rely on the company’s tools to grow their audiences and build their businesses. Advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger that is finely tuned to people’s interests is often more affordable and effective than advertising on broadcast television and other media.

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“Like many of our decisions, this was not a simple choice and required a balance of competing interests where there was advocacy in both directions,” Mr. Mudd said. He added that some of the ad changes have been under discussion since 2016.

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Understand the Facebook Papers


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A tech giant in trouble. The leak of internal documents by a former Facebook employee has provided an intimate look at the operations of the secretive social media company and renewed calls for better regulations of the company’s wide reach into the lives of its users.

Augustine Fou, an independent ad fraud researcher, said advertising on Facebook and its other apps has long worked “better than any other display ads elsewhere because Facebook has years of people volunteering information, and it’s pretty accurate.” He added that personalized advertising outside the platform often relies on guesswork that is “so wildly inaccurate that when you try to target based on that, you’re worse off than trying to spray and pray.”

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Yet Meta has often struggled with how to take advantage of consumer data without abusing it.

“Of course, Facebook can deduce that you’re gay, or that you’re African American, but then the question becomes whether it is ethical to use those categories for targeting,” Mr. Fou said.

The new changes do not mean Meta is getting out of ad targeting. The company will still allow advertisers to aim ads at users based on tens of thousands of other categories and topics. It added that it would continue to use tools such as location targeting.

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The company also said it would let users, who can already limit their exposure to ads about topics such as politics and alcohol, to start blocking promotions related to gambling and weight loss early next year.

“We continue to believe strongly in personalized advertising, and frankly personalized experiences overall are core to who we are and what we do,” Mr. Mudd said.

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Updates to Section 7 of the Developer Policies – Facebook Gaming Policies

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We have updated Section 7 of the Developer Policies effective immediately. No change is required from the developers’ end, only awareness about these changes.

As part of our continuous focus on improving developers’ experience, we have made some updates to the Section 7 of the Developer Policies which covers all Facebook Gaming Products, such as Web Games on Facebook.com, Instant Games and Cloud Games. As part of this update we have removed outdated policies, and streamlined the language and structure of Section 7 to better reflect the existing state of our Facebook Gaming Products. We have also reorganized some policies under the Quality Guidelines. These updates do not introduce any product change, nor do they include any new requirements for developers.

Please review the updated Section 7 to familiarize yourself with the updated content structure.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Creating Apps with App Use Cases

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With the goal of making Meta’s app creation process easier for developers to create and customize their apps, we are announcing the rollout of an updated process using App Use Cases instead of the former product-focused process. App Use Cases will enable developers to quickly create apps by selecting the use case that best represents their reason for creating an app.

Currently, the product-focused app creation process requires developers to select an app type and individually request permission to API endpoints. After listening to feedback from developers saying this process was, at times, confusing and difficult to navigate, we’re updating our approach that’s based on App Use Cases. With App Use Cases, user permissions and features will be bundled with each use case so developers can now confidently select the right data access for their needs. This change sets developers up for success to create their app and navigate app review, ensuring they only get the exact data access they need to accomplish their goals.

Starting today Facebook Login will be the first use case to become available to developers. This will be the first of many use cases that will be built into the app creation process that will roll out continually in 2023. For more information please reference our Facebook Login documentation.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Understanding Authorization Tokens and Access for the WhatsApp Business Platform

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The WhatsApp Business Platform makes it easy to send WhatsApp messages to your customers and automate replies. Here, we’ll explore authentication using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta.

We’ll start with generating and using a temporary access token and then replace it with a permanent access token. This tutorial assumes you’re building a server-side application and won’t need additional steps to keep your WhatsApp application secrets securely stored.

Managing Access and Authorization Tokens

First, let’s review how to manage authorization tokens and safely access the API.

Prerequisites

Start by making sure you have a developer account on Meta for Developers. You’ll also need WhatsApp installed on a mobile device to send test messages to.

Creating an App

Before you can authenticate, you’ll need an application to authenticate you.

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Once you’re signed in, you see the Meta for Developers App Dashboard. Click Create App to get started.

Next, you’ll need to choose an app type. Choose Business.

After that, enter a display name for your application. If you have a business account to link to your app, select it. If not, don’t worry. The Meta for Developers platform creates a test business account you can use to experiment with the API. When done, click Create App.

Then, you’ll need to add products to your app. Scroll down until you see WhatsApp and click the Set up button:

Finally, choose an existing Meta Business Account or ask the platform to create a new one and click Continue:

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And with that, your app is created and ready to use. You’re automatically directed to the app’s dashboard.

Note that you have a temporary access token. For security reasons, the token expires in less than 24 hours. However, you can use it for now to test accessing the API. Later, we’ll cover how to generate a permanent access token that your server applications can use. Also, note your app’s phone number ID because you’ll need it soon.

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Click the dropdown under the To field, and then click Manage phone number list.

In the popup that appears, enter the phone number of a WhatsApp account to send test messages to.

Then, scroll further down the dashboard page and you’ll see an example curl call that looks similar to this:

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curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Note that the Meta for Developers platform inserts your app’s phone number ID and access token instead of the and placeholders shown above. If you have curl installed, paste the command into your terminal and run it. You should receive a “hello world” message in WhatsApp on your test device.

If you’d prefer, you can convert the curl request into an HTTP request in your programming language by simply creating a POST request that sets the Authorization and Content-Type headers as shown above, including the JSON payload in the request body.

Since this post is about authentication, let’s focus on that. Notice that you’ve included your app’s access token in the Authorization header. For any request to the API, you must set the Authorization header to Bearer .

Remember that you must use your token instead of the placeholder. Using bearer tokens will be familiar if you’ve worked with JWT or OAuth2 tokens before. If you’ve never seen one before, a bearer token is essentially a random secret string that you, as the bearer of the token, can present to an API to prove you’re allowed to access it.

Failure to include this header causes the API to return a 401 Unauthorized response code.

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Creating a Permanent Access Token

Knowing that you need to use a bearer token in the Authorization header of an HTTP request is helpful, but it’s not enough. The only access token you’ve seen so far is temporary. Chances are that you want your app to access the API for more than 24 hours, so you need to generate a longer-lasting access token.

Fortunately, the Meta for Developers platform makes this easy. All you need to do is add a System User to your business account to obtain an access token you can use to continue accessing the API. To create a system user, do the following:

  • Go to Business Settings.

  • Select the business account your app is associated with.
  • Below Users, click System Users.
  • Click Add.
  • Name the system user, choose Admin as the user role, and click Create System User.
  • Select the whatsapp_business_messaging permission.
  • Click Generate New Token.
  • Copy and save your token.

Your access token is a random string of letters and numbers. Now, try re-running the earlier request using the token you just created instead of the temporary one:

curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Your test device should receive a second hello message sent via the API.

Best Practices for Managing Access Tokens

It’s important to remember that you should never embed an App Access Token in a mobile or desktop application. These tokens are only for use in server-side applications that communicate with the API. Safeguard them the same way you would any other application secrets, like your database credentials, as anyone with your token has access to the API as your business.

If your application runs on a cloud services provider like AWS, Azure, GCP, or others, those platforms have tools to securely store app secrets. Alternatively there are freely-available secret stores like Vault or Conjur. While any of these options may work for you, it’s important to evaluate your options and choose what works best for your setup. At the very least, consider storing access tokens in environment variables and not in a database or a file where they’re easy to find during a data breach.

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Conclusion

In this post, you learned how to create a Meta for Developers app that leverages the WhatsApp Business Platform. You now know how the Cloud API’s bearer access tokens work, how to send an access token using an HTTP authorization header, and what happens if you send an invalid access token. You also understand the importance of keeping your access tokens safe since an access token allows an application to access a business’ WhatsApp messaging capabilities.

Why not try using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta if you’re considering building an app for your business to manage WhatsApp messaging? Now that you know how to obtain and use access tokens, you can use them to access any endpoint in the API.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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