Advertisers that place Facebook ads related to housing, credit, or employment won’t be allowed to exclude certain ethnic groups anymore, the company said.
“We are going to turn off, actually prohibit, the use of ethnic affinity marketing for ads that we identify as offering housing, employment, and credit,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s vice president of US public policy, told USA Today.
Facebook has been advertising “ethnic affinity” marketing as a way to reach a multicultural audience since at least 2015. But the way those features could be combined with ads for legally sensitive areas like jobs and housing was widely publicized last month when Pro Publica published an article about the practice. Pro Publica reporters bought their own housing ad targeting people who were house hunting, but the organization excluded anyone who had an “affinity” for African American, Asian American, or Hispanic people.
Ads for housing that indicate a preference based on “race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin” are banned by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Employment ads that discriminate in similar ways are barred by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Facebook defended the features when it first spoke to Pro Publica about the matter, saying it takes “prompt enforcement action” when ads violate its policies, which prohibit using the targeting options for discrimination or harassment. Allowing advertisers to include and exclude certain groups is helpful for testing how their marketing performs, a Facebook public policy manager said.
The company wouldn’t answer questions about Pro Publica’s own discriminatory ad, which was published 15 minutes after the order was placed.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development said earlier this week it had “serious concerns” about the advertising practices and claimed it was in discussions with Facebook about the matter. USA Today reports that Facebook also held discussions with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In addition to turning off ethnic affinity marketing options for certain ads, Facebook’s Egan added that advertisers will have to affirmatively agree not to place discriminatory ads on the platform.
Facebook was also hit with a proposed class action lawsuit just days after the Pro Publica piece, accusing them of violating the Fair Housing Act. The company has said it will fight that case and that the case has no merit.