Facebook agrees to advertising review to settle US discrimination suits

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc has agreed to change the paid advertising platform as part of a comprehensive scheme to prevent discriminatory and “harmful” practices, the company and the US civil rights groups said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of laptop users in addition to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this photo illustration March 28, 2018. REUTERS/dado Ruvic/Illustration

Under the agreement, Facebook will create a new advertising portal for ads that are linked to housing, employment and credit ads that limit targeting options for ads on all services, including Instagram and Messenger, and to the rights of the groups said in a joint statement.

Advertisers on the portal, which will be separated from the system used to advertise for other sets of services, will not be able to target ads by age, gender, cultural affinity, or zip code, ” the statement said.

They will also be required to ensure a minimum geographical radius for location-based targeting to prevent the exclusion of certain communities.

In addition, the company pledged to build a tool that allows users to search all current housing ads in the United States, regardless of whether the ads were aimed at them.

“There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and credit, and this harmful behavior should not be done through Facebook ads,” Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a separate statement.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, with 2.7 billion users, and nearly $56 billion in annual revenue, is on the defensive about the advertising practices, while also fighting off privacy scandals and revelations that Russia is using its platform to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Complaints about ads on the basis of discrimination have dogged the company since 2016, when the news organization ProPublica reported that the advertisers can ads on Facebook based on self-reported tasks, even if the task was “Jew hater.”

ProPublica later reported that it was able to buy a discriminatory housing ads and slip them in the past, Facebook’s review process, despite the company claiming that it was blocking these ads.

Since then, Facebook has had to contend with long-term legal pressure on the issue of the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Communications Workers of America, among other groups and individuals.

In five separate lawsuits, the groups claimed the company audience selection tool enabled advertisers to exclude specific demographic data of the see of vacancies and other features.

Facebook the settings for “allowed advertisers to create ads that are excluded from people of color or families with children,” said Sandra Tamez, head of the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio, which is part of Tuesday’s settlement.

Under U.S. law, including the federal Fair housing act, it is forbidden to publish certain types of ads if they have a preference based on race, religion, gender or other specific formats.

Facebook last year reached a similar settlement with the state of Washington to end discriminatory ads. He said at the time that it has already removed thousands of categories of potentially sensitive personal characteristics of the exclusion of ad targeting tools.

With the new regime, Facebook has committed to the creation of the ads portal Sept. 30 and the implementation of other changes at the end of the year.

Reporting by Katie Paul, Akanksha Rana and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Tom Brown

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