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Facebook agrees to safeguards in ad discrimination case

Meta will stop allowing ads to be targeted using a pair of "special audience" tools it offers that could carve out certain groups of people

Facebook owner Meta has agreed to change its ad targeting technology and pay US$115,000 to settle US government allegations the social media giant allowed discrimination in who saw housing advertisements, authorities said Tuesday.

Under terms of a deal that must still be approved by a court, Meta will use artificial intelligence to make sure ads cross demographics to reach people regardless of age, gender or race.

“We will be introducing a new method designed to make sure the audience that ends up seeing a housing ad more closely reflects the eligible targeted audience for that ad,” Meta deputy general counsel Roy Austin said in a post.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development had charged in 2019 that Facebook “unlawfully discriminates based on race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disability” by restricting who can view housing-related ads.

Facebook has become a multi-billion dollar advertising juggernaut with its large amounts of user data that allow companies to more precisely target certain demographics, but which have also prompted allegations of privacy infringement and discrimination.

While HUD accusations focused on housing ads, Meta will also put the new system to use to make sure ads for jobs or credit don’t discriminate, Austin added.

Meta has been working with HUD on a “variance reduction system” to prevent discrimination in ad targeting on its platform.

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Meta had already made changes to address housing ad discrimination concerns, and those will remain in effect, the proposed settlement stated.

Facebook announced early in 2019 that it was revamping how it uses targeted advertising in a settlement with activist groups alleging it discriminated in messages on jobs, housing, credit and other services.

By the end of this year, Meta will stop allowing ads to be targeted using a pair of “special audience” tools it offers that could carve out certain groups of people, the settlement said.

Meta will also pay a civil penalty of US$115,000 and let an independent third-party check to make sure it is abiding by the terms of the settlement, court documents stated.

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