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Facebook to start testing AI review system for discriminatory advertising

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Facebook is making it virtually impossible for advertisers to exclude users from seeing specific types of ads based on their race and other factors.

Facebook is continuing its efforts to ensure nobody uses its tools to create biased ads that exclude people based on a number of factors, such as race, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation.

On Wednesday, the company announced it is updating its ad policies to make its existing prohibiting of discrimination even stronger. Additionally, it is testing an automated system that uses machine learning technology to identify potentially controversial ads. Facebook claims the new model will help it to streamline the review process.

The social network has also added a new section linked from its ad policies page that provides educational resources from government agencies and civil rights groups, including the ACLU and Department of Justice.

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Facebook’s comprehensive ad targeting tools came under fire last year when it was alleged that they included a feature that was unlawful. The function in question allowed marketers to exclude users from seeing their ads based on ethnicity. Investigative news nonprofit ProPublica claimed the option was in violation of federal housing and employment laws, which prohibit ads that discriminate against people based on such factors as race and gender. The article was followed by a lawsuit (filed by several Facebook users) that made similar allegations.

Facebook responded by swiftly disabling the “ethnic affinity” feature for ads pertaining to housing, employment, or credit. Now, when someone tries to create a Facebook ad related to those fields and attempts to excludes the site’s multicultural advertising segments (African-American, Asian-American and U.S. Hispanic communities) the ad is disapproved. In its warning message to advertisers trying to create these types of items, Facebook allows the creator to submit the ad for a manual review.

Similarly, if an advertiser tries to show a housing, employment, or credit ad that uses any other audience segment, they will be required to certify that they are complying with the new policy and with applicable anti-discrimination laws.

“Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook,” states the company in a blog post. “Over the past several months, we’ve met with policymakers and civil rights leaders to gather feedback about ways to improve our enforcement while preserving the beneficial uses of our advertising tools.”