Facebook to overhaul ad-targeting system after discrimination complaints

Housing, employment, and credit ads will no longer be hidden from users of certain ethnicity, gender, or age groups.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor on

Facebook announced on Tuesday that it would change its ad-targeting system so that housing, employment, and credit ads on the social media platform no longer have the option to be selectively shown to certain ethnicity, gender, or age groups.

The changes to Facebook's ad-targeting system forms part of a $5 million settlement with several groups, including the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Communication Workers of America (CWA), over the social media platform allegedly using advertising practices that discriminated against minorities.

Facebook allegedly posted job ads that targeted male Facebook users only, excluding all women and non-binary users from receiving the ads.

Under the new approach, as part of the settlement, Facebook will set up a separate portal for advertisers in the areas of housing, employment, and credit so that ads do not include race, gender, or age as targeting options. 

Facebook will also roll out a new system of automated and human review to catch discriminatory ads, as well as education and certification requirements globally around its advertising policies for housing, employment, and credit ads.

"As the internet and platforms like Facebook play an increasing role in connecting us all to information related to economic opportunities, it's crucial that micro-targeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination," said ACLU senior staff attorney Galen Sherwin.

This isn't the first time Facebook has faced scrutiny over its targeted ads being discriminatory. 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.

The complaint is still ongoing.

Shortly after, Facebook removed over 5,000 ad targeting options that could have been used inappropriately to discriminate against audiences of certain groups.

Beyond cries against Facebook for its alleged discriminatory practices, the company also faced various scandals over the past year, from a data breach of roughly 50 million accounts to the discovery that millions of users' information was harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook said it will work with civil rights leaders and experts, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, to implement these changes.

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