Facebook settles lawsuits alleging discriminatory ads

Facebook to overhaul 'discriminatory' ad targeting

Previous year the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and a number of jobseekers filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and employers, alleging discrimination via the Facebook ad targeting system. 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.

Namely, the company will no longer allow advertisers to discriminate when it comes to housing, jobs, or credit advertisements that run on the social media platform.

Last August, the Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Facebook of engaging in housing discrimination by allowing landlords and home sellers to block certain prospective buyers or tenants from seeing online ads based on race, sex, religion and other characteristics.

Facebook has been facing several discrimination lawsuits from users who alleged that its ad systems discriminated based on age, race or gender.

The company said Tuesday that it will also launch a tool for users to search and view all current housing ads running on its platforms in the USA, regardless of who the ads are targeted to. It's taken fire for allowing advertisers to target groups of people identified as "Jew-haters" and Nazi sympathizers.

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Facebook assures that the latest update limits businesses from using the discriminatory exclusions. The ads will be vetted by Facebook for compliance, using both human staff and automation, the company said.

The targeting is often extraordinarily precise: nearly anything that anyone puts in a Facebook profile, combined with anything in any other database that Facebook has managed to tie to those details, can be selected by an advertiser.

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. Expect critics and industry observers to watch closely, however, because years of promises and investigations have, let's say, strained trust in Facebook's ability to not completely bork things further.

The organization said Facebook took some steps to eliminate discriminatory targeting but did not always follow through. Critics have said such a swath of finely tuned categories, like people interested in wheelchair ramps, are essentially proxies to find and exclude certain groups. This levels the playing field so that they can reach audiences they care about. "This agreement will help other companies that rely on algorithms and data for a range of services and operations to carefully consider whether their policies, products, and platforms are illegally discriminating against consumers".

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