Facebook Advertising Algorithms Allowed Advertisers to Discriminate
In November of 2018, we wrote a blog about allegations that Facebook faced in ad discrimination lawsuits against women.
After 18 months of negotiations, Facebook recently reached a settlement that included paying $5 million. According to USA Today, Facebook primarily derives its income from advertising, which comprises most of the $56 billion in revenue earned last year. Their settlement incorporated provisions for aggressive oversight and their commitment to removing categories from the Facebook platform that enabled advertisers to discriminate based on protected classes.
Not only must Facebook deal with lawsuits, it also must deal with investigations by government entities. The State of Washington conducted an investigation of its ad platform that lasted 20 months, and the company settled this issue in July. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is also conducting an investigation.
Ad Platform Allegations
The company’s ad platform contained targeting tools that advertisers could use to focus advertising on specific demographics. However, in areas such as jobs or housing and development, ad targeting enabled Facebook clients to discriminate and not send ads to certain groups of individuals. They could exclude individuals over the age of 40 (age discrimination) or those in particular ethnic or racial groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics and Jews and individuals of a particular sexual orientation.
Advertising that promoted credit cards, renting, housing or job interviews could exclude protected classes and deny them the same opportunities as other demographics.
Although plaintiffs reached a settlement with Facebook in various lawsuits, they have continued to pursue legal action against the companies that initiated the discriminatory advertising.
Facebook’s settlement terms include having the National Fair Housing Alliance, the ACLU and the Communication Workers of America meet with the company twice yearly for three years to monitor progress. They will be able to identify issues by testing the ad platform. In addition, Facebook has agreed to study and evaluate potential prejudice that its algorithms have incorporated into targeting for ads.
Facebook has already eliminated targeting options for certain types of ads, which will no longer incorporate the option of targeting audiences based on age, genre or zip codes.