Google will stop allowing advertisers to target users for housing, employment and credit ads based on age, gender, parental status, marital status or ZIP code.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Facebook made a similar move late last year.
Google announced its intentions on Thursday, but the changes won’t be fully implemented in the United States and Canada until the end of 2020.
Advertisers should expect Google reps to reach out with more info in the coming weeks about how these changes may impact them, including ways in which they can more actively support access to housing and other opportunities.
The Fair Housing Act in the United States makes it illegal to discriminate based on religion, color, national origin or gender for the sale, rental or financing of housing.
Google’s ad policies already prohibit personalization based on sensitive categories, including race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin and disability.
But the option to target – and, by the same token, exclude – people by age and gender and other related targeting parameters is an invitation to discriminate against certain populations.
Google has been working with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on these changes “for some time,” Scott Spencer, Google’s VP of product management, ads privacy and safety noted in a blog post.
Spencer said that Google will “continue to work with HUD, civil rights and housing experts and the broader advertising industry to address concerns around discrimination in ad targeting.”
Dealing with discriminatory ad targeting isn’t a new topic. Google, Twitter and Facebook have all been investigated by HUD for allegedly enabling unfair ad practices. But impassioned calls for a reckoning with bias in all forms after the killing of George Floyd is no doubt turning up the heat on this issue.
“Advertising practices may continue to evolve, but our nation’s laws are unwavering,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement released following Google’s announcement. “Improvements are underway in the online advertising space, and HUD encourages platforms, such as Google, to take these types of steps to eliminate unlawful discrimination in advertising.”
Facebook began making its moves during the summer of 2018 with the removal of 5,000 ad targeting options that could be used to discriminate against minority groups, such as “Native American culture” and “Passover.”
While testifying before Congress in October, Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers that Facebook was on track to eliminate the ability to target housing, employment and credit opportunity ads by age, gender, ZIP code and certain interest categories by the end of 2019.