Why Facebook Is Reducing Advertisers’ Targeting Capabilities

Makes it harder to use tools to facilitate discrimination

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Facebook is reducing the targeting capabilities available to advertisers on the social network by 5,000 in hopes of curtailing discriminatory practices. 

The move comes amid a hail of public criticism contending Facebook’s advertising tools facilitate discrimination. It also helps deliver on an earlier agreement Facebook signed with the office of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson to curb such exclusions. 

In a blog post, the social network it will limit advertisers’ ability to exclude audiences depending on their registered ethnicity or religion. For instance, the earlier version of Facebook Ads Manager let advertisers omit certain audience types from its messaging based on certain criteria, including “Passover,” “Evangelicalism,” “Native American culture” and “Islamic culture.” The removal of the 5,000 targeting options means advertisers will no longer be able to do so.

A Facebook spokesperson told Adweek the planned reduction won’t meaningfully change the total number of targeting options on offer via its Ads Manager tool but declined to publicize the full list of categories to be removed in order to prevent ‘bad actors” from circumventing the policy change.

“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,” reads the blog post announcing the update.

The move follows a consultation with third parties to help advertisers on the social network better realize the fine line between discretionary ad targeting and outright discrimination. 

“For over a year, we have required advertisers we identify offering housing, employment or credit ads to certify compliance with our non-discrimination policy,” reads the post which attempts to outline Facebook’s efforts in the space to date.

The social network emphasized that the close proximity of the policy update and a discrimination complaint filed by the Department of Housing an Urban Development against Facebook on Friday was coincidental. 

HUD claims Facebook violated the Fair Housing Act by enabling advertisers to “engage in housing discrimination” through the use of such tools, with the move potentially resulting in a formal investigation.

Facebook signed a legally binding agreement with Ferguson’s office in July, but advertisers contacted by Adweek differed on the potential efficacy of such measures.

“You can get around any rule,” said one source speaking on condition of anonymity. “Facebook has a really interesting creative strategy department that can work well with advertising agencies. I don’t think it will limit them. People always find a way around.”

@ronan_shields ronan.shields@adweek.com Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.