Facebook stops ‘illegal’ race-based ad targeting (but still offers ‘ethnic affinity’ tools)

10/02/2017

Facebook has updated its ad policies to prevent race-based targeting, but will still allow targeting based on ‘ethnic affinity’ of users in domains other than housing, employment and credit.

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The move follows accusations that the social network offered tools that allow advertisers to break American anti-discrimination laws.

Facebook has updated its advertising policies to ban discrimination based on a number of personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or age.

The social network announced in November that it would be making changes to help prevent future cases of discrimination on the site.

According to Facebook, the new ad policies “make it clear that advertisers may not discriminate against people based on personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, medical or genetic condition.”

Facebook will also be working to help educate advertisers on anti-discrimination practices.

Facebook doesn’t allow for advertisers to specifically market to specific races or allow users to self-identify race.

But the company can and does use various signifiers to group users based on things like the content users interact with, pages they like, or what their language preferences are, which allows advertisers to target ads based on those interests.

Accompanying the new policies is a section aimed at educating advertisers about the extent to which ad targeting is allowed on the social network, both in terms of Facebook’s own policies and applicable national laws.

Enforcing the rules may be tricky, but Facebook plans to use new technology “that leverages machine learning” to identify the most egregious offenders – those that “offer housing, employment or credit opportunities” in a discriminatory manner.

First highlighted in March 2016, the affinity targeting was intended to allow advertisers to target messages to specific audiences without getting into the murky ground of racial profiling. Facebook describes the feature as grouping people not by “their genetic makeup, but their affinity to the cultures they are interested in”.

“Several organisations have asked us to work with them to help identify ways that our advertising technology could be used to promote inclusion and opportunity for underserved communities, while also protecting against discriminatory uses,” Facebook said in a blogpost. “We believe in the power of our advertising products to create opportunities for people from all backgrounds, so we are committed to working with these groups toward that goal.”

Read the blogpost here


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