Facebook lets housing ads exclude ethnic minorities
Occurred: October 2016
Facebook allowed advertisers in the US to exclude black, Hispanic, and other 'ethnic affinities' from seeing ads on its platform, according to a 2016 investigation by non-profit news organisation ProPublica.
Facebook devised a category called 'Ethnic Affinities' that enabled advertisers to target and exclude certain groups of users when placing ads for a new apartment or a house for sale. Affinity targeting is based on interests users have declared or Facebook pages they have liked.
The discovery resulted in Facebook being sued by multiple parties, including the US Department of Housing (HUD) - a suit Facebok lost. Ads that exclude people based on race, gender and other sensitive factors are prohibited by US federal laws governing housing, employment, and financial services.
In August 2020, The Markup reported that Facebook continued to publish ads discriminating against users on the basis of age and race, including in advertising open jobs. Days before The Markup's article was published, Facebook announced it would eliminate multicultural affinity categories.
A July 2021 Markup investigation discovered a wide range of proxies for racial categories being used by advertisers on the platform, including the phrases 'African-American culture,' 'Asian Culture,' and 'Latino culture.'
Brookings (2021). Solving the Problem of Racially Discriminatory Advertising on Facebook
National Fair Housing Alliance (2019). Civil Rights Advocates Settle Lawsuit with Facebook: Transforms Facebook’s Platform Impacting Millions of Users
Ali M., et al (2019). Discrimination through Optimization: How Facebook’s Ad Delivery Can Lead to Biased Outcomes (pdf)
Speicher T. et al (2018). Potential for Discrimination in Online Targeted Advertising (pdf)
Investigations, assessments, audits
The Markup (2021). Facebook Got Rid of Racial Ad Categories. Or Did It?
The Markup (2020). Does Facebook Still Sell Discriminatory Ads?
ProPublica (2017). Facebook (Still) Letting Housing Advertisers Exclude Users by Race
ProPublica (2016). HUD Has ‘Serious Concerns’ About Facebook’s Ethnic Targeting
ProPublica (2016). Facebook Lets Advertisers Exclude Users by Race
ProPublica (2016). Facebook ad
News, commentary, analysis
Published: August 2023