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Facebook Rises Against ‘Ethnic Affinity’ Discrimination

Facebook advertisers for housing, credit and employment can no longer use the ‘ethnic affinity’ feature to target or exclude audience.

The announcement comes a week after a group of Facebook users filed a lawsuit against the site, arguing that the targeted ad practice violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is seeking class action status. The complaint pointed out that there was no option for advertisers to exclude “White or Caucasian Americans from the target audience.”

Ethnic Affinity feature on Facebook targeting
Ethnic Affinity feature on Facebook targeting

The suit is a follow-up of ProPublica’s disclosure last month that advertisers are using the option to discriminate and explicitly exclude African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. As an example, they showed a housing ad that was running on Facebook.

“We take these issues seriously,” Facebook said in a statement Friday. “Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook.”

This is what the Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook, Erin Egan has to say: There are many non-discriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads. We will continue to explore ways that our ethnic affinity solution can be used to promote inclusion of underrepresented communities, and we will continue to work with stakeholders toward that goal.

In the meanwhile, Facebook is developing tools to find and automatically disable ethnic affinity marketing for the covered categories.

Also, the company has vowed to offer more clarification and education regarding its advertising policies. It also plans to talk with policymakers and civil rights leaders to find “additional ways to combat discrimination, while increasing opportunity”.

You may read the official Facebook announcement regarding the issue.

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