Facebook failed to stop discriminatory ads: report

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Facebook has failed to repair a feature in its ad tools that allows housing advertisers to discriminate against certain races, a practice that is illegal under the Fair Housing Act.

In February, ProPublica discovered that Facebook’s ad platform allows advertisers listing houses to not show their advertisements to certain groups including African-Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers.

These groups are all protected under the Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against them in advertising for housing.


This past week, ProPublica again purchased housing ads, and was able to set its ads so that they couldn’t be viewed by the previously mentioned groups.

When the ability to discriminate against groups in Facebook’s housings ads was discovered in February, Facebook promised that it would remove this capability.

Facebook blamed the problem on a glitch but apologized for the error.

“The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure,” said Ami Vora, vice president of product management at Facebook in an emailed statement.

“This was a failure in our enforcement and we’re disappointed that we fell short of our commitments. Earlier this year, we added additional safeguards to protect against the abuse of our multicultural affinity tools to facilitate discrimination in housing, credit and employment,” she said.

Vora added that Facebook would be expanding its previously tightened-up anti-discrimination policies to all types of Facebook ads.

“While we currently require compliance notifications of advertisers that seek to place ads for housing, employment, and credit opportunities, we will extend this requirement to ALL advertisers who choose to exclude some users from seeing their ads on Facebook to also confirm their compliance with our anti-discrimination policies — and the law,” she said.

Black lawmakers in February blasted the company for allowing the possibility of discrimination on its platform.

“This is in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and it is our strong desire to see Facebook address this issue immediately,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter spearheaded by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Subcommittee on Information Technology.

Kelly is still working with Facebook on the issue.

“The Congresswoman and team are in touch with Facebook on this issue and she’s raised the issue with them,” a spokesperson for Kelly told The Hill on Wednesday. “We continue to be proactively engaged on this.”

Tags Discrimination Facebook Housing discrimination Robin Kelly Social Media advertising
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