Facebook Bans Ethnic Targeting For Credit, Housing, Employment Advertisers

facebookFacebook will disable targeting based on ethnicity for credit, housing and employment advertisers. ProPublica first reported the development.

The move, announced Friday in a blog post by Erin Egan, Facebook’s VP of US public policy and chief privacy officer, follows criticism from policymakers about the legality of “ethnic affinity marketing,” which Facebook introduced two years ago, but didn’t enter the public conversation until Julia Angwin and Terry Parris Jr. of ProPublica wrote about it in October.

Facebook will prevent this sort of targeting by creating a tool to scan ad content and alert buyers when they are about to make an illegal purchase, and it will also update its advertising policies and provide educational materials that make industry regulations explicit.

This is the first time Facebook has scaled back on targeting. The platform brought in roughly $7 billion in Q3 ad revenue largely due to its unique data and targeting capabilities.

Racial targeting is against federal law in the housing, employment and credit verticals. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it illegal for advertisers “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.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends the same laws to employment recruitment.

“We take these issues seriously,” Facebook’s Egan wrote. “Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook.”

But Facebook isn’t scrapping ethnic affinities altogether.

“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,” Egan wrote.

Policymakers were pleased with the action Facebook has taken. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, US Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) of the Congressional Black Caucus and US Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus helped Facebook reach its decision.

“We welcome Facebook’s announcement that it wants to look for other ways to combat discrimination, and look forward to further conversations with Facebook to ensure robust and specific prohibitions against discriminatory ad targeting based on gender, sexual orientation, religion and other protected characteristics,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a statement.

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) said in a blog post that it supports Facebook’s ban of ethnic affinities.

“We are pleased that Facebook took action to implement some of our suggestions,” wrote Aletha Lange, senior policy analyst at CDT. “These changes will improve Facebook’s platform and protect its users from the worst types of discriminatory advertising.”

But Facebook is walking a thin line and should be careful to avoid such illegal activity in the future, advised Gary Kibel, a partner within the digital media, technology and privacy practice group at the law firm of Davis & Gilbert LLP.

“There are many laws and self-regulatory guidelines that address how an individual’s status as a member of a protected class can be used,” he said. “Both marketers and platforms should ensure that they do not intentionally or unintentionally run afoul of such requirements.”

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

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1 Comment

  1. It should be “crossed the line” under the picture, this is a clear violation of quite a few laws. so glad… they figured it out, any other company would be in penalty and fines by now.