Social Media

After Outcry And A Lawsuit, Facebook To Stop Race-Targeted Ads

Housing, employment, and credit ads can no longer target ethnic affinities

Social Media
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Nov 11, 2016 at 11:38 AM ET

Facebook will stop allowing certain advertisers to target ads towards certain “ethnic affinities” after a lawsuit and discussions with lawmakers about the potentially discriminatory and illegal practice.

Two weeks ago, ProPublica wrote about how, when it tried to place an ad for an event about housing and rental law on Facebook, it discovered that it could target users who were interested in things like home-buying or real estate. It could also target people with certain “ethnic affinities”: users who weren’t necessarily black or Hispanic, but whose “likes” and behavior on the platform indicated that they were. And that meant ProPublica could create an ad to exclude people with those ethnic affinities as well. Conceivably, someone using Facebook to advertise a home for sale or rent could prevent certain races of people from seeing the ad at all, a move that could be a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Excluding minorities from seeing job postings, similarly, is a violation from the Civil Rights Act.

There’s no evidence that this ever happened, but the potential was there. Facebook initially responded to the story by saying that its “ethnic affinity” targeting was a way to make its ad platform more inclusive, not less. After a lawsuit and meetings with New York’s attorney general and several lawmakers, however, it has changed its tune.

“We take these issues seriously,” Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said. “Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook.”

In addition to no longer allowing ads for housing, employment, or credit to target ethnic affinities, Egan said Facebook will update its advertising policies to “be even more explicit” that discriminatory advertising is not allowed on its platform.