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Facebook axes alleged discriminatory targeting of ads after civil settlements

After coming under fire for allowing housing and jobs ads to target users based on factors like gender and age, Facebook is removing several ad-targeting categories that civil rights organizations called discriminatory. The changes, shared on Tuesday, March 19, come as part of a settlement with the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Communication Workers of America (CWA).

Advertisers running ads in categories for housing, employment, and credit will no longer have targeting options for age, gender, or zip code. Facebook previously removed the categories for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion from those same categories.

Inside those categories, Facebook says advertisers will have fewer targeting options than ads that don’t fall under the same categories. Detailed targeting which can allow advertisers to target ads based on user-added interests, will also be unavailable.

In addition to the new limits, Facebook says it is building a tool that will allow users to view housing ads in the U.S. no matter what targeting options were used.

“Housing, employment, and credit ads are crucial to helping people buy new homes, start great careers, and gain access to credit,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer, wrote in a blog post. “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.”

The network says it is continuing to work with civil rights groups, experts, and policymakers to continue to build a more inclusive platform.

A ProPublica investigative report from 2017 helped spark this litigation after the report suggested employers could target ads based on age. At the time, Facebook said the age targeting was not discriminatory and likened the option to publishing job ads in magazines geared toward specific age groups.

Last year, Facebook removed more than 5,000 ad targeting categories after a complaint by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development called targeting for housing ads discriminatory. At the time, Facebook created a new requirement for advertisers to agree to a non-discrimination policy. U.S. law prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability.”

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