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Facebook Cracks Down on Ad Discrimination

Facebook has taken heat over their use (or misuse) of personal data and faced legal action regarding advertising practices that were deemed discriminatory. In 2018, according to Facebook, “the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and other private parties, filed litigation against us, saying that we need to build stronger protections against abuse.” In March of 2019, Facebook announced a settlement with these organizations that includes, in part, the removal of some ad targeting options that could be used for unlawful discrimination in a number of categories, specifically housing, employment and credit opportunities.

A Brief History

While not the only ones to declare some ad target categories as unethical, in 2016, Pro Publica was famously able to create and place a Facebook ad for housing that allowed them to exclude “Ethnic Affinity” groups from their targeted audience. This was seen as an obvious violation of federal law that prohibits housing and employment discrimination based on protected categories including race, religion and national origin as well as others.

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What’s Changed?
In announcing the legal settlement and ad targeting changes that were coming, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “Our policies already prohibit advertisers from using our tools to discriminate. We’ve removed thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. But we can do better.”

Better meant additional potentially-discriminatory targeting options would be removed. Specifically:

  • Anyone who wants to run housing, employment or credit ads will no longer be allowed to target by age, gender or zip code.
  • Advertisers offering housing, employment and credit opportunities will have a much smaller set of targeting categories to use in their campaigns overall. Multicultural affinity targeting will continue to be unavailable for these ads. Additionally, any detailed targeting option describing or appearing to relate to protected classes will also be unavailable.

While it’s important to note that credit unions and banks weren’t singled out for using any targets to unfairly discriminate, the new policies do directly impact targeting options for loan products and credit offerings. No longer can ads run that target potential home buyers by their age or current ZIP code. Credit opportunities such as auto loans or credit cards can no longer be advertised to specific age groups. Attempts to use these targeting methods will be rejected by Facebook ads platform.

What Are My Options?
If you are an advertiser that wants to run ads for employment, loans or credit opportunities, there are still options and tools available. Facebook now requires any advertisement targeting these so-called Special Ad Categories to select your category in advance to confirm knowledge of and adherence to the policies. In addition, you will still be able to use Facebook Pixels and list uploads to create custom audiences which can be expanded through lookalike audience targeting.

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Published
September 23, 2019
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