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In an update to a story we reported on Monday:

Facebook Ends Ethnic Targeting Ads....

Facebook announced that it will no longer permit marketers who buy housing, credit-related, or employment ads to post on its site to target ethnic groups. U.S. lawmakers had warned the social media giant that the Facebook feature allowing marketers to target users in such ways could be discriminatory.

“There are many nondiscriminatory 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,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, wrote in a blog post.

Facebook did not allow advertisers to target someone specifically by race, per se, but by what it referred to as “ethnic affinity.” The six categories of ethnic affinity were African-American, Asian-American, and four types of Hispanic groups (based on whether they spoke Spanish, English, or both). Facebook had permitted marketers to exclude users with one of these “ethnic affinities” from seeing an ad in a news feed.

An investigative report by ProPublica sounded the alarm on Facebook’s policy after it proved it could buy an ad targeted to Facebook members looking for a home excluding anyone with an ethnic affinity. Civil rights advocates argued that violates federal housing laws.

Facebook has become a powerful advertiser among marketers, considering it boasts 1.8 billion monthly users. Marketers have turned to it increasingly for its ability to segment audiences with their messages. Facebook has been working on developing an ability to segment consumers based not on just demographics but their shopping habits, life milestones, and even food preferences.

The Fair Housing Act prevents individuals and organizations from refusing to sell or rent housing or provide related financing to an individual on the basis of race, color, nationality, sex, disability or whether they have children, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and it requires the government to step in proactively in order to ensure housing availability. To promote the latter, HUD has released data on housing patterns to identify areas where new or improved housing policy could make an impact.


Dive Brief:

  • A new report from the nonprofit investigative journalism outfit ProPublica suggests that Facebook’s option to target ads at users based on what the social media website calls "ethnic affinities" violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 because it lets companies target — or avoid targeting — advertisements at individuals based on race.
  • Facebook’s ad-targeting capabilities, including the exclusion feature, are generally a boon to companies, who use it to reach niche audiences to yield a greater return than simply sending an advertisement to a general audience where the impact may not be as significant.
  • The social media site does not ask users to identify their race but instead determines "ethnic affinities" based on data collected on how they use the site, such as pages liked or shared. Users can see how Facebook identifies their “ethnic affinity,” but instead of changing it, they can only opt-out of tracking, Fusion reported. 
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