If you’ve been an advertiser for a while, then you definitely are aware of the importance that personalized ads have, especially when it comes to targeting. Basically, since it’s driven by users’ online data, it helps to make sure that the content shown to them is actually relevant, which creates a better experience both for the user (because they see things that actually care about) and for the publisher (because their ads are shown to people more likely to click on). 

However, in the past few months (or years?), the privacy issue has taken more and more relevance, leading Google to reconsider all their policies on how users’ information was handled. As part of their Privacy Sandbox initiative, they’ve started taking a lot of steps towards keeping their users safe and sound while they browse through the internet. Some examples would be the banning of third-party cookies, their brand new FLoCs, and their on and on content restrictions updates

And recently, they’ve launched probably the most complete update on personalized advertising policies, and what are advertisers supposed to avoid and respect. So today, we’ll be explaining all about this new update, and how it’ll affect us from now on. So, let’s jump right in and see what Google had to say about personalized advertising, shall we? 

So, for starters, the update establishes the principles of personalized advertising, which define sensitive interests as: 

  • Legal restrictions: Ads must comply with the law.
  • Personal hardships: Ads shouldn’t target users in ways that exploit their difficulties or struggles.
  • Identity and belief: Ads shouldn’t target users based on categories prone to systemic discrimination or unfair stigmas.
  • Sexual interests: Ads shouldn’t target users based on inherently private sexual interests or experiences.
  • Access to opportunities: Ads shouldn’t limit access to opportunities by leveraging unfair societal biases when targeting users with specific content categories.

In the principles of personalized advertising, they also included some clarifications on restrictions based on the personalized advertising targeting feature: 

  • For all personalized ads targeting features, we don’t allow targeting users based on sensitive interest categories.
  • For advertiser-curated audiences, where advertisers can customize, curate, or upload their own audiences, advertisers are also not allowed to promote products and services from sensitive interest categories.
  • For pre-defined Google audiences, where Google manages the development and curation of policy-compliant audiences based on information across Google properties, advertisers are allowed to promote products and services from sensitive interest categories.

And then, to make our lives much much easier, Google went in and dived into the specifics of each of their sensitive interest categories, so let’s see how they described each! 

Legal restrictions:

  • Users under 13 in personalized advertising: both collecting information from children under 13, and targeting interest content to children under the age of 13 are forbidden. 
  • Restricted drug terms in personalized advertising: any information about prescription medication, unless it explicitly states that it is for animal use and never human use, is absolutely forbidden. 
  • Clinical trial recruitment in personalized advertising: does this require explanation?
  • Alcohol in personalized advertising: both alcoholic beverages and drinks that resemble alcoholic beverages are banned.
  • Gambling in personalized advertising: online and offline gambling, regardless if it includes money exchange or not, is banned from being promoted. Maybe some other ad giant should’ve known better about ads involving gambling, right?
  • Location-based gambling in personalized advertising: physical casinos that explicitly promote gambling

Personal hardships: 

  • Health in personalized advertising: physical or mental health conditions, products, services, or procedures to treat or manage chronic health conditions, any health issues associated with intimate body parts or functions, invasive medical procedures, and disabilities are banned topics in ads. 
  • Negative financial status in personalized advertising: information or promotion of services for personal financial distress, difficulties, or deprivation.
  • Relationship hardships in personalized advertising: information or promotion of services for personal hardships with family, friends, or other interpersonal relationships.
  • Commission of a crime in personalized advertising: information or promotion of services regarding personal criminal record, crimes committed, criminal allegations, or criminal charges.
  • Abuse and trauma in personalized advertising: ads targeted or promoting services to personal status as a victim of abuse, crime, or another traumatic event.
  • Imposing negativity in personalized advertising: imposing negativity on the user or using a negative perspective or bias to promote any content category.

Identity and belief:

  • Sexual orientation in personalized advertising: sexual orientation, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, or heterosexual orientation.
  • Political affiliation in personalized advertising: it is banned to promote any political affiliation, but this application does not apply to Gmail ads, but it applies to all other targeting features. See the policy below for political content in Gmail ads.
  • Political content in personalized advertising: same criteria as the one above. 
  • Trade union membership in personalized advertising: trade unions and ads that imply knowledge of a user’s trade union membership.
  • Race and ethnicity in personalized advertising: targeting ads with information or implications about personal race or ethnicity.
  • Religious belief in personalized advertising: targeting ads with information or implications about personal religious beliefs.
  • Marginalized groups in personalized advertising: promotion of something related to membership in a marginalized or vulnerable social group, such as social castes, immigrants, or refugees.
  • Transgender identification in personalized advertising: promotion of information or services related to personal identification with a gender different from the gender assigned at birth, or a gender which does not conform to singular male or female identification.

Sexual interests:

  • Birth control in personalized advertising: devices intended to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Sexual content: all sexual content as defined in the Google Ads Sexual content policy

Access to opportunities: 

  • In the United States and Canada, the following sensitive interest categories cannot be targeted to audiences based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP code: 
    • Housing in personalized ads: homes for sale or rental, where a home is defined as a place a person would reside. This includes products or services enabling the sale or rental of homes. 
    • Employment in personalized ads: employment opportunities or hiring a person for a job.
  • Credit in personalized ads: offers of credit or products or services related to credit lending. 

So, it looks a lot like all these policies have more to do with making sure no one tells strictly to their target audience that they know what they are doing online, doesn’t it? Well, whichever is the case, this is what you should keep an eye on from now on!