Facebook Addresses Concerns About Ethnic Affinity Ad Targeting Leading to Discrimination

Facebook is taking steps to address allegations that its ethnic affinity ad-targeting options have indirectly led to discriminatory advertising.

Facebook is taking steps to address allegations that its ethnic affinity ad-targeting options have indirectly led to discriminatory advertising.

Vice president of U.S. public policy and chief privacy officer Erin Egan announced in a Newsroom post that the social network plans to build tools to detect and automatically disable the use of these targeting features for certain types of ads, such as those involving housing, employment and credit.

Erin also said Facebook will update its advertising policies to make it clear that discriminatory advertising will not be tolerated.

According to Egan, Facebook has met with lawmakers including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) of the Congressional Black Caucus and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss the issue, as well as with groups including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Brookings Institution and Upturn, and she added:

Recently, policymakers and civil rights leaders have expressed concerns that advertisers could misuse some aspects of our affinity marketing segments. Specifically, they’ve raised the possibility that some advertisers might use these segments to run ads that discriminate against people, particularly in areas where certain groups have historically faced discrimination–housing, employment and the extension of credit.

We take these issues seriously. Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook.

As for the steps the social network plans to take, she wrote:

Going forward, we have decided to make the following changes to our advertising products. We will:

  • Build tools to detect and automatically disable the use of ethnic affinity marketing for certain types of ads: We will disable the use of ethnic affinity marketing for ads that we identify as offering housing, employment or credit. There are many non-discriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads. We will continue to explore ways that our ethnic affinity solution can be used to promote inclusion of underrepresented communities, and we will continue to work with stakeholders toward that goal.
  • Offer more clarification and education: We will update our advertising policies to be even more explicit and require advertisers to affirm that they will not engage in discriminatory advertising on Facebook, and we will offer new educational materials to help advertisers understand their obligations with respect to housing, employment and credit.

We are making these changes to deter discrimination and strengthen our ability to enforce our policies. We look forward to finding additional ways to combat discrimination while increasing opportunity, and to continuing our dialogue with policymakers and civil rights leaders about these important issues.

Readers: What are your thoughts on Facebook’s reaction to this issue?

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