Facebook advertisers can no longer address users by age, gender and zip code for housing, work and loan offers, the company said on Tuesday as part of a larger agreement with civil rights organizations.
The far-reaching agreement follows reports from ProPublica since 2016 that found that Facebook is allowing advertisers to exclude users based on race and other categories who protected by federal law. It is illegal for home, job, and loan advertisers to discriminate against protected groups.
ProPublica had been able to buy apartment-related ads on Facebook that groups like African American and Jews, and job advertisements were previously found that banned users from age and gender placed by well-known companies such as Uber and Verizon Wireless.
“This deal is a shot across the bow for all technology companies and platforms,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney at Outten & Golden in Washington who represented the plaintiffs with the ACLU. “You need to understand that the Internet is a civil rights issue, not a civil rights-free zone.”
The changes apply to advertisers who offer housing, work, and credit offers to US-based Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger users. Facebook hopes to be able to implement the requirements by the end of the year.
the approval will also create its own online portal for housing, loan and job offers. These advertisers will not be able to target users in a geographic area with a radius of less than 15 miles, which, according to proponents, prevents “digital” neighborhood redlining.
Housing, job and loan advertisers can now only choose from a few hundred interest categories to appeal to consumers, instead of several thousand. Critics have said a lot of fine-grained categories like People interested in wheelchair ramps, are essentially substitutes to find and exclude certain groups. Facebook said it would keep more general interests like “real estate”, “apartment” and “job interview”.
Facebook also said it will create a page that will allow users to see all of the current apartment ads, regardless of whether the users are targeted or not. The agreement says Facebook will also look into how algorithms can be biased.
“There is a long history of housing, employment and credit discrimination, and this harmful behavior should not be done through Facebook advertising,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, wrote in a statement Tuesday.
The changes are part of Facebook’s settlement in five discrimination lawsuits. Plaintiffs included the Communications Workers of America and several fair housing organizations, as well as individual consumers and job seekers. The settlement includes a payout of approximately $ 5 million to plaintiffs, primarily to cover legal fees.
The company agreed last year to limit advertisers’ ability to target around some demographic categories, according to a complaint from Washington State.
Facebook previously stated that it is being held to an unreasonably high standard and that ads that exclude users based on age and gender are non-discriminatory. “We completely reject claims that these advertisements are discriminatory,” wrote Ads Vice President Rob Goldman in a December 2017 post. “Used responsibly, age-based employment targeting is an accepted industry practice, and for good reason: it helps Employers in recruiting employees and people of all ages in looking for work. ”The title of the article was:“This time, ProPublica, we disagree. “
Facebook said Tuesday it had “not seen the kind of explicit discriminatory behavior that civil rights groups are concerned about”. But ProPublica used a crowdsourcing project to find dozen examples of job advertisements that were excluded Workers over 40, women and other protected groups.
Facebook recently took another step that resulted in less visibility into ads. This year it is moved to block a ProPublica project This enabled the public to see political ads being targeted on Facebook.