Facebook Settles Discrimination Lawsuit on Housing Ads 

Photo courtesy of Solen Feyissa for Unsplash
Facebook Settles Discrimination Lawsuit

This article was originally published on BLAC Detroit Magazine.

Meta — the social media giant that owns Facebook and Instagram — has settled a landmark discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department that accused the company of using its targeted advertising system to allow landlords to market housing ads in a discriminatory manner. 

According to The Washington Post, it was the Trump Administration that filed the lawsuit in 2019 citing the Fair Housing Act. This is the second settlement against the company. The 2019 settlement compelled the company to withhold demographic data such as gender, age, and zip codes — the latter is often used to determine race, in marketing housing, credit, and job opportunities. 

However, researchers determined that discrimination was still taking place because the software could detect when people of a certain race or gender would click on a certain ad — then send similar ads to “look-alike audiences.” The result was, for example, men would be shown a certain housing ad even though the advertising company had not requested only men. 

This week’s settlement also requires the company to overhaul the tool which is called Lookalike Audiences. The company will now build a new automated advertising system which will ensure that housing ads are delivered to a more equitable population mix. Additionally, Meta will pay a $115,054 fee. 

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“This settlement is historic, marking the first time that Meta has agreed to terminate one of its algorithmic targeting tools and modify its delivery algorithms for housing ads in response to a civil rights lawsuit,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Advertisers will still be able to target locations, but not based on zip codes alone. 

“Discrimination in housing, employment and credit is a deep-rooted problem with a long history in the US, and we are committed to broadening opportunities for marginalized communities in these spaces and others,” Facebook Vice President of Civil Rights Roy Austin said in a statement. “This type of work is unprecedented in the advertising industry and represents a significant technological advancement for how machine learning is used to deliver personalized ads.”

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