Facebook sued over alleged ethnic discrimination in housing, employment ads

facebook news hire
bloomua / 123rf
Facebook is facing renewed pressure over the “ethnic affinity” option within its ad-targeting tool courtesy of a lawsuit that claims the feature is racially biased.

Ethnic affinity essentially enables marketers to exclude certain demographics — such as African-Americans, Asian-Americans or Hispanics — from their promos on the social network. Following the release of a report in October that labeled the feature unlawful, Facebook issued a statement defending targeted advertising as an industry norm. The company also emphasized its aggressive enforcement action against discriminatory ads.

The suit, which was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, retains the arguments put forward in the recent report by news outlet ProPublica. It alleges that Facebook’s advertising platform enables illegal discrimination and is in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The latter outlaws employers from discriminating against prospective employees as part of the hiring process based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The former makes it illegal to do the same in regards to housing advertisements.

The suit adds there is no option in Facebook’s platform “to exclude the ‘demographic’ of white or caucasian Americans from the target audience.” The plaintiffs are described as Facebook users that have looked at Facebook advertisements during their respective searches for housing or employment. The defendants are not seeking the closure of Facebook’s ad platform or even the exclusion mechanism, but to end the illegal uses of the function.

Facebook claims its ethnic affinity data is not the same as race — specifically, the company refers to the fact it does not ask for a person’s ethnic information during the sign-up process. However, the suit alleges that affinity groups act as a “proxy” for a user’s race, gender, family, and national origin.

“The lawsuit is utterly without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.  Multicultural marketing is a common practice in the ad industry and helps brands reach audiences with more relevant advertising,” a Facebook spokesperson told Digital Trends in an emailed statement. “Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law.” 

In October, Facebook’s Head of Multicultural Christian Martinez stated the following about the targeting feature in a blog post: “[It] prevents audiences for community-specific ads from seeing a generic ad targeted to a large group and helps avoid the offensive outcome that traditional advertising can often create for people in the minority. This kind of communication is positive: it reflects an advertiser’s respect for the diverse communities it is trying to reach.”

Updated: 11/7/2016 by Saqib Shah: Added statement from Facebook

Social Media

Facebook’s tributes section serves as an online memorial for deceased users

Death doesn't stop Facebook users from sharing memories, and now those memorialized posts have a dedicated spot on the network. Facebook Tribute is a section on memorialized profiles for users to write posts and share memories.
Gaming

Transform into the ultimate leader with our tips and tricks for Civilization 6

Civilization VI offers both series veterans and total newcomers a lot to chew on from the get-go. Here are some essential starting tips to help you master the game's many intricacies.
Deals

Apple’s MacBook laptop is on sale for just $800 for a limited time

If you have your heart set on a MacOS-powered laptop, B&H has a sale on Apple's MacBook that takes the price down to $800. Only select models are on sale right now, but you can score up to a $600 savings if you act quickly.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Social Media

How to protect yourself from GoFundMe scams before donating

Can you spot a GoFundMe scam? While the fundraising platform says scams make up less than a tenth of one percent of campaigns, some do try to take advantages of others' charity -- like a case last year that made national news.
Social Media

Your Facebook newsfeed is getting a spring cleaning, and so is Messenger

Hows that newsfeed looking? Facebook has shared an update on efforts to clean up the newsfeed, as well as what tools are coming next. Facebook has new Trust Indicators, while Messenger gains badges for verified accounts.
Social Media

Looking to officially rid your inbox of Facebook messages? Here's how

Deleting messages from Facebook Messenger is almost as easy as scrolling through your News Feed. Here, we show you how to delete an entire conversation or a single message, both of which take seconds.
Social Media

LinkedIn: Now you can express love, curiosity, and more with new Reactions

LinkedIn is following in the footsteps of Facebook (three years later!) with the rollout of new reactions that give users more ways to express themselves when responding to posts in their feed.
Social Media

Twitter’s experimental Twttr app is even more popular than the real thing

Twttr, the new app that lets regular Twitter users test new features, is proving more popular than the main app, according to the company. The revelation suggests some of the innovations may land for all Twitter users soon.
Social Media

Messenger and Facebook, together again? Facebook tests integrating chats

Longing for the old days where Facebook and Messenger were one app? Facebook is testing an integrated chat option. While Messenger remains more feature-rich, the test brings some chat functionality back into the Facebook app.
Social Media

How to download Instagram Stories on iOS, Android, and desktop

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.
Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went down worldwide for 2 hours this morning

Chaos erupted on the internet this morning, as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp all went down from 6:30 a.m. to approximately 9 a.m. Thousands of users were unable to access the sites or send or receive Whatsapp messages.
Mobile

Skype screen sharing for mobile will let you share your swipes on dating apps

Skype is prepping the launch of screen sharing for mobile so you can share your swipes on dating apps, shop with buddies, or, perhaps, show a PowerPoint presentation to coworkers. It's in beta just now, but anyone can try it.