Facebook to remove 5000 targeted ad functions to keep "advertising safe and civil"
The move will deter advertisers from excluding users based on ethnicity and religion
Facebook is planning to remove 5,000 targeted advertising functions from its platform to prevent discrimination, it announced in a recent blog post.
“We’re committed to protecting people from discriminatory advertising on our platforms,” read the blog.
The move will deter advertisers from excluding users based on ethnicity and religion. This follows findings that Facebook's automated advertising system, which allowed brands to target people by affinities, would also allow marketers to exclude certain groups.
According to media reports, just last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said in an administrative complaint that the social network violated the Fair Housing Act over its targeting systems. Examples of targeted advertising flagged by HUD include showing ads only to users interested in the "Christian Church" or the "Bible" and not showing ads to users interested in "accessibility" or "deaf culture." HUD alleges the former is religious discrimination and the latter is discrimination based on disability. Facebook says it is working with HUD to address these concerns.
"We’re removing over 5,000 targeting options to help prevent misuse. While these options have been used in legitimate ways to reach people interested in a certain product or service, we think minimizing the risk of abuse is more important," further read the post.
Facebook's targeted ad functions can be used to reach users based on their likes and interests. However, according to a 2016 Pro Publica report, this could also allow Facebook advertisers to exclude specific racial and ethnic groups when placing housing ads in what was seen as a potential violation of federal anti-discrimination housing laws.
The report found that by simply using a designation called "Ethnic Affinities," Facebook let advertisers target and exclude certain groups of users when placing ads for a new apartment or a house for sale. Pro Publica also said Facebook approved an ad for a housing-related event that excluded African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics.
Following the investigation, Facebook updated its advertising policies, adding an anti-discrimination section. "Ads must not discriminate or encourage discrimination against people based on personal attributes," the policy said.
But another investigation by Pro Publica in 2017 found that Facebook was still allowing advertisers to discriminate. ProPublica bought housing rental ads on Facebook and asked that they not be shown to users belonging to groups such as "African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers," and Facebook approved the ads in minutes, say reports.
“When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it’s the same as slamming the door in someone’s face,” HUD Assistant Secretary Anna María Farias said in a statement on Friday, as reported in certain sections of media.
Facebook said in the Tuesday blog post that the recent move “includes limiting the ability for advertisers to exclude audiences that relate to attributes such as ethnicity or religion.”
“We want to help educate advertisers about their obligations under our policies. For over a year, we have required advertisers we identify offering housing, employment or credit ads to certify compliance with our non-discrimination policy. In the coming weeks, this new certification will roll out gradually to all US advertisers via our Ads Manager tool. Advertisers will be required to complete this certification in order to continue advertising on Facebook. We’ve designed this education in consultation with outside experts to underscore the difference between acceptable ad targeting and ad discrimination. We’ll expand this to advertisers using our other tools and APIs, and those in additional countries, over time,” read the blog post.
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