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.'

Operator: Meta/Facebook
Developer: Meta/Facebook

Country: USA

Sector: Govt - housing

Purpose: Target advertising

Technology: Advertising management system
Issue: Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity, age
Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: August 2023