Facebook said today it has settled lawsuits over potential discrimination in housing, employment, and credit ads on its platforms, agreeing to take steps to limit how the ads can be targeted.
The company had been the subject of legal complaints by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Communications Workers of America, and other civil rights advocates, as well as plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging its high-powered ad targeting system enabled illegal discrimination by age, race, disability, and other protected characteristics.
“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 Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, in a statement Tuesday. “We are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”
Facebook had already limited the ability to target such ads based on “ethnic affinity” after a critical ProPublica report, and the company later removed other ad targeting categories potentially related to protected classes.
Under the new settlement, Facebook says it won’t allow housing, employment, and credit ads to be targeted by age, gender or zip code, and will build a special advertising interface for such ads with limited targeting options. Location-based targeting will be allowed, but only aimed at a minimum 15-mile radius to prevent it being used as a proxy for race, the Washington Post reports. A mix of human and automated review will make sure ads are correctly flagged as being in the protected categories.
Facebook will also build a tool to make all housing ads available by target area, even to users they’re not programmatically aimed at, COO Sheryl Sandberg said in a blog post.
“Housing, employment and credit ads are crucial to helping people buy new homes, start great careers, and gain access to credit,” she wrote. “They should never be used to exclude or harm people. Getting this right is deeply important to me and all of us at Facebook because inclusivity is a core value for our company.”