Facebook agrees to advertising overhaul to settle US discrimination suits

Facebook Makes it Harder to Run Some Discriminatory Ads

A number of articles were published over the last two years relating to how Facebook enabled advertisers to exclude certain minorities from various ads, based on race, age and sex.

Facebook says it will build an entirely new ad platform for advertisers to run housing, employment and credit campaigns. The groups contended that the targeting options violated laws barring discriminatory advertising.

Endlessly customizable ad targeting is Facebook's bread and butter. People perusing the platform's ads for housing opportunities will be able to look up those targeted at users around the country - even if they're not one of them.

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

On Tuesday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, announced on the company's website thatthe changes "will better protect people on Facebook".

It's important to note that going forward Facebook will enact a structural change in an effort to prevent malicious actors from gaming its all-too-easily gamed system.

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The settlement resolves three lawsuits and several Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints over the social network's advertising.

Those rights advocacy groups filed a lawsuit a year ago against Facebook for unlawfully discriminating against certain populations via their ad targeting tools.

Another ProPublica report in November 2017 found discriminatory advertisements were getting through Facebook's systems. "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". It said at the time that it had already removed thousands of categories of potentially sensitive personal attributes from its exclusion ad targeting tools. But today's settlement goes further.

Facebook will overhaul its ad-targeting systems to prevent discrimination in housing, credit and employment ads as part of a legal settlement. For example, advertisers will not be able to target users by characteristics like gender, age, religion, race, ethnicity or zip code. "For a broker with a listing in Brooklyn, a 15-mile radius minimum to target their open house means they'll reach most of New York City versus the real potential buyers closer to the listing".

Facebook also pledged to make its advertising more transparent by giving users the ability to search all housing-related ads regardless of whether users have received the ads in their individual news feeds.

However, the company still faces an administrative complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in August over the housing ads issue.

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