Facebook: Fighting the Good Ad Fight

July 21, 2019

It is search to the rescue! Following a settlement meant to eliminate discrimination on Facebook last year, the company is amending how it delivers housing, job, and financial services ads. ABC News reports, “Facebook to Make Jobs, Credit Ads Searchable for US Users.” The platform makes most of its money from targeted advertising, but the technique has its problems. Reporter Frank Bajak writes:

“The move is likely part of Facebook’s strategy to show regulators that is doing a good job policing its own service — putting it in compliance with existing anti-discrimination law — and doesn’t need a heavy-handed approach from lawmakers. It comes as the company is facing increasing regulatory pressures.

As part of the settlement with plaintiffs including the ACLU and the National Fair Housing Alliance, Facebook agreed in March to stop targeting people based on age, gender and zip code and to also eliminate such categories as national origin and sexual orientation. The groups had sued claiming Facebook violated anti-discrimination laws by preventing audiences including single mothers and the disabled from seeing many housing ads — while some job ads were not reaching women and older workers. Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU and the group’s lead attorney in the case, said making the three Facebook databases searchable by anyone ‘definitely creates greater access to information about economic opportunities.’”

Of course, there could still be a lot of bias hidden in those ad-steering algorithms, but good luck achieving complete transparency there—proprietary software and all that. Besides, there are also the issues of privacy, anti-trust violations, and hate speech to consider. At least Facebook appears to be looking ahead: they say they are fighting voter suppression efforts and potential attempts to interfere with the 2020 census. Will it be enough to keep its critics, like the ACLU and the National Fair Housing Alliance, at bay?

Cynthia Murrell, July 21, 2019

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