YouTube and Gmail ads are about to get a little less annoying for some. Google today is adding parenting and pregnancy, weight loss and dating to its list of “sensitive categories” on user ad controls. Users will be able to restrict ads from these categories on both YouTube and Google Display. The ad filters won’t apply to Google search results or Google Shopping, but a spokesperson confirmed that this could happen in the future.
“Providing transparency and control has always been a priority for us so we’re expanding our tools, enabling the choice to see fewer pregnancy and parenting, dating, and weight loss ads. We’ll continue to listen to user feedback and study which categories to expand this feature to in the future,” said Karin Hennessy, group product manager for ad privacy at Google in a statement.
Targeted ads have come under fire for being particularly intrusive and even harmful for certain users. For example, alcoholics or gambling addicts could be triggered by ads for tequila and online casinos. Those who suffer from eating disorders or body dysmorphia could experience something similar with weight loss ads, and so platforms are trying to strike a delicate balance that keeps their users happy while not alienating their advertisers.
In response to accusations of discriminatory ads, Meta this year removed the ability for advertisers to target users based on sensitive topics, such as health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion or sexual orientation. Twitter has also banned political ads and climate change denial ads from its platform. Both Facebook and Instagram block ads featuring weight loss products and cosmetic surgery targeted to minors. Instagram users can set their ad topic preferences so they’ll see fewer ads from certain categories. Google has already blocked targeted ads for users below the age of 18 years old, and in 2020 allowed users to limit how many ads they would encounter on the topics of gambling or alcohol.
Given the sizable share of the online ad market it currently holds, Google's decision to let users opt out of additional sensitive ad categories means those who might be harmed (or just annoyed) by them will hopefully be exposed to them less frequently.