Facebook Revamps Its Ad-Targeting System To Stop Discrimination

Facebook agrees to change its advertising platform to settle discrimination suit

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The far-reaching settlement compels Facebook to withhold a wide array of detailed demographic information - including ZIP codes, gender, and age - from advertisers when they market housing, credit, and job opportunities.

Facebook Inc has agreed to change its paid advertising platform as part of a wide-ranging settlement to prevent discriminatory and "harmful" practices, the company and USA civil rights groups said on Tuesday. The new advertising platform will introduce technological barriers to companies promoting housing, employment, and credit ads from significantly restricting their intended audience. "They should never be used to exclude or harm individuals".

On Tuesday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, announced on the company's website thatthe changes "will better protect people on Facebook".

The ad reforms follow litigation filed past year by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and other private parties, calling on the company to build stronger protections against abuse. Many companies use Facebook to recruit workers.

She added that the company is creating a tool that will allow people to search for all housing ads in the U.S. Facebook will also pay around $5 million.

The Menlo Park, California-based company will also create a separate page where users can view all recent real estate-related ads and mandate advertisers certify that posts are compliant with federal anti-discrimination laws, among other steps.

Most of Facebook's revenue comes through its sophisticated advertising platform that lets advertisers select who sees their ads. The company defended the use of its so-called "ethic affinities" categories for ad targeting in a statement denouncing the anti-discrimination lawsuit it faced. The ads were often for housing, credit and employment.

The legal efforts followed a ProPublica investigation that found Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans. Some firms, for example, were targeting ads only to people under age 45. "For a broker with a listing in Brooklyn, a 15-mile radius minimum to target their open house means they'll reach most of New York City versus the real potential buyers closer to the listing".

And yet, shortly after ProPublica first revealed in 2016 that it was able to use Facebook's tools to place housing ads that would specifically not be shown to minorities, Facebook sang a very different tune. In 2018, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) filed a complaint in 2018 against the social media platform for allegedly excluding certain groups from seeing housing ads, according to a Techcrunch report.

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