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Facebook settles with rights groups on ad discrimination

21 March 2019

Complaints about ads-based discrimination have dogged the company since 2016 when news organization ProPublica reported that advertisers could target ads on Facebook based on people's self-reported jobs, even if the job was "Jew hater". The investigative reporting website had earlier demonstrated that major American companies, including Uber, were buying employment ads on Facebook that discriminated on the basis of age and gender.

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.

Facebook has kept mum on how its ad targeting algorithms work. Facebook has agreed to pay legal fees and costs, for a total of almost Dollars 3 million.

Facebook has long faced criticism about its advertising platform and whether its systems enable discrimination.

On Tuesday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, announced on the company's website thatthe changes "will better protect people on Facebook". "We believe this settlement goes not just to [the letter of] the law but beyond the law in taking very, very strong action to make sure any discrimination doesn't happen".

The settlement resolves three lawsuits and several Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints over the social network's advertising.

Last August, the Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Facebook of engaging in housing discrimination by allowing landlords and home sellers to block certain prospective buyers or tenants from seeing online ads based on race, sex, religion and other characteristics. Some firms, for example, were targeting ads only to people under age 45.

As part of the settlement, Facebook will no longer allow housing, employment or credit ads to be targeted to particular users by age, gender or zip codes.

Facebook, the world's largest social network with 2.7 billion users and almost $56 billion in annual revenue, has been on the defensive over its advertising practices, while also fending off privacy scandals and disclosures that Russian Federation used its platform to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

She added: "When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it's the same as slamming the door in someone's face". It said at the time that it had already removed thousands of categories of potentially sensitive personal attributes from its exclusion ad targeting tools. Location-based targeting will be allowed, but only aimed at a minimum 15-mile radius to prevent it being used as a proxy for race, the Washington Post reports.

Sandberg added that Facebook is building a tool so that people can search for and view all current housing ads in the U.S. targeted to different places across the country.

Facebook settles with rights groups on ad discrimination