Advertisers offering housing, employment, and credit won’t be able to target their sales pitches on Facebook to exclude minorities, the social network company says this morning.
Critics have charged that Facebook’s “ethnic affinity” ad targeting program empowered buyers to violate federal laws that prohibit discrimination against those looking for homes, work, and financial services.
“There are many non-discriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads,” Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan says in a blog post. “We will continue to explore ways that our ethnic affinity solution can be used to promote inclusion of underrepresented communities, and we will continue to work with stakeholders toward that goal.”
The company will develop tools to find and automatically disable ethnic affinity marketing for the covered categories. It will “require advertisers to affirm that they will not engage in discriminatory advertising on Facebook,” she says. It also will provide educational materials to “help advertisers understand their obligations with respect to housing, employment and credit.”
Meanwhile Facebook plans to talk with policymakers and civil rights leaders to find “additional ways to combat discrimination, while increasing opportunity.”
The change follows ProPublica’s disclosure last month of Facebook’s failure to screen out buyers who might use the ethnic affinity plan to discriminate in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The news organization bought an ad in Facebook’s housing category that explicitly called on it to exclude African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics.
The company says that it has had a “constructive dialogue” with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Brookings Institution, and Upturn. It also met with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“We take these issues seriously,” Egan says. “Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook.”