Facebook says it will stop racial exclusion in certain ads

Facebook's latest move will disable its "ethnic affinity" feature on certain types of ads.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook Inc. will no longer allow advertisers to exclude entire ethnic groups from certain kinds of targeted ads, the company announced Friday, after concerns were raised that the practice led to racial discrimination.

Since 2014, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social networking giant — which reaps its revenue from advertising — has offered a tool called “ethnic affinity,” which enables advertisers to choose which ethnic groups will and won’t be shown their ads. Users do not have to tell Facebook their ethnicity; instead, the tool puts users into ethnic categories based on their stated interests.

The idea behind it, Facebook said, was to enable advertisers to reach audiences with more relevant ads.


But the feature came under fire from policymakers and civil rights leaders, who were worried it could be misused.

“Specifically, they’ve raised the possibility that some advertisers might use these segments to run ads that discriminate against people, particularly in areas where certain groups have historically faced discrimination, [such as] housing, employment and the extension of credit,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s vice president of U.S. public policy and chief privacy officer said in a blog post.

“We take these issues seriously,” she said. “Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook.”

Egan said the company will build a tool that can automatically detect ads that offer housing, employment or credit and disable the ethnic affinity feature for those ads. She also said Facebook will update its advertising policy to make even more explicit the prohibition of discrimination on its platform.

The ethnic affinity tool sparked concerns earlier this year when Universal Pictures said at a panel at the South by Southwest festival that it used customized racial marketing for the film “Straight Outta Compton,” in which the trailer shown to African American audiences was different from what was shown to non-African American audiences.

Last month, nonprofit news outlet ProPublica highlighted the potential to use the tool for racial discrimination by showing how it could buy an ad on Facebook targeting users who were house-hunting, and could stipulate that the ad not be shown to African American, Asian American or Latino users. Civil rights lawyers said the exclusions seemed like a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

Twitter: @traceylien


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