The far-reaching settlement compels Facebook to withhold a wide array of detailed demographic information - including ZIP codes, gender, and age - from advertisers when they market housing, credit, and job opportunities.
Facebook became the target of five different discrimination lawsuits between 2016 and 2018 alleging that its online ad systems kept users from seeing ads pertaining to employment, housing or credit based on factors such as race, age or gender. "There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and credit, and this harmful behaviour should not happen through Facebook ads", Sandberg said.
Civil rights advocates have warned for years that Facebook's ads violated antidiscrimination laws, because advertisers were able to use that data to exclude specific groups of people. "We're committed to doing more, and we look forward to engaging in serious consultation and work with key civil rights groups, experts and policymakers to help us find the right path forward", Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post.
The reinforced restriction is a reaction to requests by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Communication Workers of America. The ads will be vetted by Facebook for compliance, using both human staff and automation, the company said.
Those rights advocacy groups filed a lawsuit a year ago against Facebook for unlawfully discriminating against certain populations via their ad targeting tools. Shortly after, Facebook removed over 5,000 ad-targeting options to prevent that capability. "But we can do better". By the end of the year, it will create a separate advertising entry point for companies planning to advertise housing, employment and credit.
The settlement resolves three lawsuits and several Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints over the social network's advertising.
Discrimination hasn't been Facebook's only problem with ad targeting.
Despite the move, ProPublica reported in November of 2017 that the company still allowed advertisers to prevent minorities from viewing housing ads. "We are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook's lead".
The company will also roll out a new page where US users can search for and see current housing-related ads, even if those ads didn't appear on their News Feed.
If more users in a category have more interest in a certain thing, they will be targeted logically. The company still faces an administrative complaint filed by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in August over the housing ads issue.