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Facebook Announces Plans to Stop Discrimination in Housing, Employment, and Credit Advertising

Facebook announced Tuesday that the company would stop allowing advertisers of housing, jobs, and credit to target people based on characteristics such as race, gender, age, national origin, family status, and disability.

Built into Facebook's targeted advertising tools are options that allow advertisers to exclude people based on certain identity factors, set a narrow geographic range for Facebook users to view ads, and use a Lookalike Audience tool that allows advertisers to build an audience that shares common characteristics with the advertiser's current customers or other groups.

Facebook has been criticized for discriminatory advertising practices for years, and, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, these changes settle five legal claims civil rights advocates had filed against Facebook:

  • Last March, the NFHA along with three of its member organizations—the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio, the Fair Housing Justice Center, and the Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence—sued Facebook for allowing housing advertisers to exclude users with certain protected characteristics, including family status and gender, from viewing rental or sales ads.
  • Similarly, in August, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a public complaint against Facebook, alleging that the company's advertising platform violates the Fair Housing Act by allowing landlords and home sellers to choose who sees their ads based on various factors.
  • In September, the American Civil Liberties Union, the law firm Outten & Golden, and the Communications Workers of America filed a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and 10 other employers for targeting job ads to male users only, preventing female and non-binary users from seeing the opportunities.
  • Individual plaintiffs in two U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California cases, Onuha et al v. Facebook and Riddick et al v. Facebook, challenged discrimination in various types of advertising.

Facebook's announcement includes plans to fight discrimination by establishing a separate advertising portal for housing, employment, and credit, on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. On this portal, advertisers will have a much smaller array of targeting categories, eliminating ways to target based on age, gender, zip code, multicultural affinity, and other characteristics. These changes will be implemented by December 31st, 2019.

"Housing, employment, and credit ads are crucial to helping people buy new homes, start great careers, and gain access to credit," Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a statement. "They should never be used to exclude or harm people. Getting this right is deeply important to me and all of us at Facebook because inclusivity is a core value for our company."