On the menu in Washington, DC, today: Mark Zuckerberg, served skewered and moderately grilled by House reps during a hearing on Facebook’s impact on the financial services and housing sectors.
Most of the questions he faced were skeptical queries about the potential pitfalls of Facebook’s attempted foray into cryptocurrency with Libra, which Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA, facetiously referred to as “the Zuck buck.”
Zuckerberg confirmed that Facebook won’t launch anything Libra-related until it receives regulatory approval.
But lawmakers also interrogated Zuckerberg about Facebook’s efforts to prevent its algorithm and ad targeting options from enabling discrimination against legally protected classes.
Facebook recently settled with the ACLU, National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and Department of Housing and Urban Development over allegations that advertisers could use Facebook’s ad system to exclude users by gender, age and ZIP code from seeing ads for employment, housing and credit-related products, which is illegal under federal law.
At one point, lawmakers explicitly asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook disallows discriminatory targeting and “redlining,” the racist practice dating back to the 1930s of denying would-be borrowers access to credit based on where they live.
And … he actually wasn’t sure, although he had a feeling that Facebook had already started blocking discriminatory ad targeting on its platform.
But after quickly conferring with his team, Zuck clarified: Turns out there’s still some work to do on preventing discrimination in ads on Facebook.
Although advertisers are no longer able to target by age, gender or ZIP, or by certain interest categories for housing, employment and credit opportunity ads, the ban hasn’t been instituted across the entire platform.
“We have implemented that change in the primary surface for buying ads on Facebook that covers 80% of the ads,” Zuckerberg said. “In the settlement there is a time frame to implement the other 20% by the end of the year, which we’re on track to do, but have not done yet.”
More specifically, as part of its settlement with the NFHA, Facebook pledged to create a separate flow for housing, employment and credit ads in Ads Manager by the end of September.
The move was necessary, although it raises an interesting question about how attractive Facebook will now be as an advertising platform for job boards, credit card companies, rental sites and the like.
The settlement also requires Facebook to create separate ad creation and audience selection tools within Facebook’s Marketing API for these types of ads, and a new Housing Search Portal that will allow users to search and view current housing ads regardless of whether they were in the audience selected by the advertisers; basically it’s a housing-specific version of Facebook’s Ad Library for political, election-related and issue ads.
Both the housing ads portal and new Marketing API flows must be finished by Dec. 31.
Despite being in the crosshairs, Zuckerberg took a brief moment during his congressional grilling to toot Facebook’s horn about its anti-discrimination policies.
“I don’t think any of the other internet platforms restrict the kind of targeting we do for these categories,” he said, “but I think doing so helps us uphold the principles of stopping discrimination.”