- Facebook will remove age, gender and ZIP code targeting capabilities for housing, employment and credit ads, as part of a settlement on five discrimination lawsuits filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Communications Workers of America and other advocacy groups, The Wall Street Journal reported. Facebook will pay just under $5 million as part of the settlement.
- The company will also add restrictions on targeting for these kinds of ads to U.S. consumers. Geographic targets will have 15-mile minimum radius from a specific address or city, and the "Lookalike Audience" tool, which helps advertisers find users who resemble customers they already know, will not factor in age, religious views, Facebook Group affiliation and other criteria for ad targeting.
- Facebook plans to create a tool allowing people to search all housing ads in the U.S. and will meet with the lawsuit plaintiffs' attorneys every six months to discuss the settlement and resolve issues. The National Fair Housing Alliance will receive ad credits to promote fair housing rights on the platform, while Facebook will continue working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on concerns over housing ads.
While Facebook's removal of age, gender and ZIP code are part of its settlement of discrimination lawsuits, the move also aligns with other recent efforts by the company to promote ad transparency on the platform. Facebook has faced scrutiny over the targeting capabilities for credit, housing and employment ads since a 2016 ProPublica report said it was able to buy ads targeting prospective homebuyers that excluded certain groups based on ethnicity. Facebook didn't allow targeting by race, but had an "ethnic affinity" category that could be used as a proxy, which it later removed for employment, credit and housing ad targeting, the Journal reports.
The news also follows past efforts by Facebook to remove 5,000 ad targeting options to prevent misuse and to combat discrimination on the platform. Last year, the social giant began requiring all U.S. advertisers to certify compliance with its nondiscrimination policy in the Ads Manager tool. Housing, employment and credit advertisers were already required to certify that they comply with the policy.
The nearly $5 million settlement is a drop in the bucket compared to potential record-breaking fines from the Federal Trade Commission that Facebook faces for violating a government agreement to protect users' privacy data. Facebook has been working to rebuild the trust of users and advertisers after last year's Cambridge Analytica scandal, where millions of users' data was misused, among other privacy flaps.
Since then, the platform launched a brand safety certification in its Facebook Marketing Partners program to help advertisers review content options and have greater control over where ads will appear. Facebook also recently added publisher lists and publisher delivery reports to help advertisers see where their ads will appear before launching a campaign.