Facebook to overhaul ad-targeting system after discrimination complaints

Facebook Won’t Let Employers, Landlords or Lenders Discriminate in Ads Anymore

The decision settles a number of lawsuits against Facebook brought by, among others, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Communications Workers of America. Facebook has limited the type of targeting advertisers can use when running housing, employment and credit ads, which are categories protected by federal law to prevent discrimination.

Facebook announced Tuesday that it will block landlords and creditors from using a person's demographic data including a person's zip code, gender and age, to target certain groups in online advertisements.

As part of five settlements totalling nearly $5m, Facebook has agreed to make major changes to its ad platform to curb discrimination against people when it comes to employment, housing and financial ads, according to Axios.

Those rights advocacy groups filed a lawsuit past year against Facebook for unlawfully discriminating against certain populations via their ad targeting tools. The new ad policy applies to advertisers targeting U.S. users on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. It's how they company made US$56-billion in revenue a year ago."There is a lot of pressure on Facebook and its ability to target ads", said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

Furthermore, Facebook will introduce a new tool which will allow users to view and search for all the housing ads in the U.S., even if the ads are not shown to users.

The housing groups conducted investigations in San Antonio, Texas, Miami, and other cities, creating ads that excluded families with children, women, the disabled, African-Americans, Hispanics, and people with certain national origins - all without consumers ever knowing they had been excluded. While the platform has been clamping down on discriminatory misuse of ad tools, it has also been helping businesses extend their reach.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 5 2018
Facebook vows to tackle discrimination with ad-targeting overhaul

Discrimination hasn't been Facebook's only problem with ad targeting. Ads for other products will still have access to the same targeting tools.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said that inclusivity is a core value for the company and putting a stop to the "long history" of discrimination in the three areas is therefore, a priority.

Given the complexity of ad targeting, Facebook will have a hard time putting up restrictions.

Endlessly customizable ad targeting is Facebook's bread and butter. The Menlo Park, California-based internet giant, criticised for years about privacy breaches, hate speech and its use by Russian Federation and others to interfere with elections, has been under intense scrutiny since last week when an alleged gunman livestreamed the mass murder of 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Since algorithms train on data from actual usage, they skew towards existing biases for or against the chosen audience.

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