Facebook to overhaul 'discriminatory' ad targeting

Facebook Won’t Let Employers, Landlords or Lenders Discriminate in Ads Anymore

"One of our top priorities is protecting people from discrimination on Facebook", chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said in her company blog post. Late a year ago, the Justice Department allowed a lawsuit against Facebook on this issue to proceed and in recent months the tide has very definitely turned against the company, something that hasn't been helped by its compulsive lying.

The 1968 Fair Housing Act of 1968 says its illegal "to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin".

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The decision settles a number of lawsuits against Facebook brought by, among others, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Communications Workers of America. In addition, Facebook will add more certification and education requirements globally about how to prevent discrimination and ensure advertisers are aware of its policies. It will also pay out $5m to the various parties that sued it, of which $2.5m will go toward training advertisers on how to comply with housing and lending laws.

Facebook has kept mum on how its ad targeting algorithms work. "Facebook's willingness and commitment to making sweeping changes to its platform, algorithmic systems, and guidance to advertisers and users is a major step forward".

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Facebook is now being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a number of state attorneys general and the Department of Justice over its data-handling.

"This settlement positively impacts all of Facebook's 210 million users in the USA since everyone is protected by our nation's fair housing laws", said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of NFHA. Facebook really ran wild with the practice, as ProPublica investigations found that buyers could target housing and employment ads to whites only, or to exclude African Americans, Jews, or people who primarily speak Spanish.

Sandberg added that Facebook is building a tool so that people can search for and view all current housing ads in the United States targeted to different places across the country. Critics have said such a swath of finely tuned categories, like people interested in wheelchair ramps, are essentially proxies to find and exclude certain groups.

Facebook promised to make changes following that report.

The deal doesn't resolve a lawsuit filed by the CWA and a group of job-seekers against Amazon.com, T-Mobile and hundreds of other employers and employment agencies accused of using Facebook's tools to filter out older job-hunters. This settlement takes away digital tools that advertisers can use to deny equal opportunity. That means that societal discrimination could still be part of the calculations - if more users within a single category register more interest in a certain thing, they'll logically be targeted as a result, which is already biased based on the sample.

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