Facebook Axes Age, Gender and Other Targeting for Some Sensitive Ads

From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc. is removing age, gender and ZIP Code targeting for housing, employment and credit-related ads as part of a settlement with advocacy groups and other plaintiffs.

The new actions—and just under $5 million in payments—settle five discrimination lawsuits filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Communications Workers of America and others, the company said.

“There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a blog post that will be published on Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokesman.

Facebook has faced pressure on targeting around such ads for years, sparked by a 2016 report from investigative-news site ProPublica, which said it had been able to buy ads targeted to house hunters that excluded certain groups based on ethnicity. While Facebook didn’t allow targeting specifically by race, it lets advertisers seek consumers by criteria it calls “ethnic affinity.”

Soon after that report, Facebook said it would no longer let marketers target housing, employment and credit-related ads by ethnic affinity.

The company will now add further restrictions on targeting such ads to U.S. consumers. Geographic targets, for example, will have a minimum 15-mile radius from any specific address or city center, according to Facebook. And the “Lookalike Audience” tool, which lets advertisers try to find Facebook users who resemble the customers they already know, won’t incorporate factors such as age, religious views or Facebook Group membership when targeting these ads.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG will note that placing an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal will guarantee reaching a specific type audience that will be overrepresented in certain personal and household characteristics, including housing type, employment, income and creditworthiness and that advertisement will not reach many members of groups that do not share such attributes.

Ditto for television commercials shown on Meet the Press and Wall Street Week (now Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street). On the other hand, an advertisement placed in Successful Farming, Sports Illustrated or American Rifleman magazines will reach entirely different audiences with different demographic profiles.

Is ethnicity verboten when trying to deliver a message to a particular group for which it may be valuable? If that is the case, where should The Chicago Defender, Essence, HelloBeautifulHyphenThe Brazilians and Khaas Baat be classed? Can these publications ethically try to find people who resemble the customers they already know?

7 thoughts on “Facebook Axes Age, Gender and Other Targeting for Some Sensitive Ads”

  1. “Facebook Axes Age, Gender and Other Targeting for Some Sensitive Ads”

    Which was all fb had going for it in the first place. So advertisers aren’t going to want to spend as much when they can’t tell if their ads are getting in front of the right people.

    Which means fb will now have to find yet another way to make money off your information …

  2. I hate FB ads. I hate Google. I was talking about Luray Caverns on the phone with a friend and suddenly there’s an ad for Luray Caverns on my FB feed. Creep much?

    And then I bought a game for my nephew this afternoon and now an ad for the same game is in my FB feed. Not only are they annoying, they’re terribly promoted. Sure, send me an ad for the game I just bought. I’ll buy another copy.

    As the Great Philospher, Mr. B. Bunny would say: What a maroon.

  3. If you advertise in a magazine or newspaper, or on TV or radio, you can target certain demographics. But you cannot eliminate other demographics. Indeed, you can easily find ads that do not target you yourself.

    Facebook was actively hiding job advertisements from customers over 35, housing ads from people of the “wrong” ethnicity, and so on. That is a lot different from making an ad buy for your catamaran company in Yachting Magazine or on a yachting blog. That is hiding opportunities.

    And it is illegal, btw. Everybody else has to be very careful to be equal opportunity, but Facebook thought it was above the law. So they got sued.

    • Hmm…
      I’m not so sure…

      Targeted ads are more like private one-to-one communications rather than public mass media. Think of them as very short newsletters from an author website. Mailing list material.

      The fact that they are tied to a user account makes them private. It’s like the “preexisting relationship” exemption for robocalls.

      Part of the debate over net neutrality and internet regulation hinges on trying to treat the internet as a common carrier broadcast system like radio and tv. It isn’t. It is a collection of directed messages. Every packet of data sent over the internet has a specific address and user in mind so they can be considered private communication regardless of whether the intent is commercial. (Internet privacy is of primary importance, right behind reliability.) And, of course, the very definition of “private” makes the communication exclusionary.

      New laws would be needed to kill targeted ads.

      • Part of the debate over net neutrality and internet regulation hinges on trying to treat the internet as a common carrier broadcast system like radio and tv. It isn’t. It is a collection of directed messages.

        This is simply wrong. ‘Common carrier’ and ‘broadcast’ are orthogonal terms. Telephone companies and postal services are common carriers, but they are not broadcast systems. The fundamental idea of net neutrality is that an ISP should not give preferential treatment to data sent or received by particular entities, and particularly by content providers under the same ownership as the ISP itself. The Internet works best when my packets are just as good as yours.

        • Broadcast systems run on public airwaves and are often saddled with “must carry” regulations, equal time to political toadys, and carriage showdowns.

          The internet doesn’t. It runs on private wires (and wireless beams) these days and respond to consumer needs. putting the FCC yoke on it is a good way to kill new applications. Regulate all disruptive techno!ogies away.

          For 5G to work at its best, certain channels must be prioritized or it will will fail. Populist “equality for all” won’t fly.

          The high speed systems are purpose built to accomodate specific functions and specific levels of latency and responsiveness and need charge for those investments. Expecting data equality is like having people sign up for dialup and then expect 100gbps broadband for free.

          That’s a great way to make sure everybody only gets dialup.

          • ‘Certain channels must be prioritized’. So, you can watch high-quality streaming video from the TV network that is owned by your ISP, but not from other networks owned by different companies, because Highly Technical Reasons?

            You can have VoIP phone service supplied by your ISP for $40 a month, but if you send the same data via a dedicated VoIP provider for $20, the lines won’t carry it because Same Highly Technical Reasons?

            Not buying it for a moment. What you’re really saying is that the public has to get screwed because the system is badly designed, and the onus is not on those who own and operate the system to fix it.

            Oh, and another thing:

            ‘Regulate all disruptive technologies away.’ Bits is bits. No technology can possibly disrupt the fundamental nature of digital information. What you are advocating is for Internet providers themselves to have carte blanche to refuse carriage to all disruptive technologies as they see fit. The FCC has nothing to do with it – especially outside the U.S. You may not know it, but there are in fact other countries where the Internet operates.

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