Facebook Removes Ethnic Ad-Targeting Option From Housing, Employment and Credit Ads

After being called out by ProPublica

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In response to a ProPublica report last month about Facebook's use of "ethnic affinity" ad-targeting, the social network is making its ad-buying practices more transparent.

ProPublica's piece looked at how Facebook allowed advertisers to purchase ads that would be served to someone based on their ethnicity. After purchasing an event ad, the publication was given options for which groups could see the ad—African American, Asian American or Hispanic. While Facebook is known for its super-targeted ad-targeting, ProPublica suggested being able to buy campaigns solely based on ethnicity was illegal.

In a blog post this morning, Facebook outlined a few changes that it's making to its ad products to squash those discrimination concerns.

First, Facebook is building tools directly into its ad-buying software that automatically remove its affinity-marketing tools when marketers buy certain types of ads that "have historically faced discrimination," namely housing, employment and credit.

Facebook is also moving the ethnic-affinity section in its ad-buying software. Previously, the option was labeled under the "demographics" section of the system—now it will be labeled in the "behaviors" section.

The social giant said it plans to update its Advertising Policies website to make affinity-marketing issues "front and center for all businesses" and will also work to make it a bigger part of its education process for businesses and ad partners.

In making the changes, Facebook said that it has met with a number of government leaders over the past few weeks, including New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Congresswoman Robin Kelly from Illinois and California's Linda Sanchez as well as the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

"We are making these changes to deter discrimination and strengthen our ability to enforce our policies," said Erin Egan, Facebook's vp of U.S. public policy and chief privacy officer, said in a statement. "We look forward to finding additional ways to combat discrimination, while increasing opportunity, and to continuing our dialog with policymakers and civil rights leaders about these important issues."

@laurenjohnson lauren.johnson@adweek.com Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.