The Stack Archive

Facebook concedes that it will develop tools against racial ad profiling

Fri 11 Nov 2016

Facebook has announced that it will develop tools to block the use of the ‘Ethnic Affinity’ feature of its advertising program, after a summer of controversy and complaint about advertisers using it to stop ads about credit, employment and housing being shown to certain ethnographic segments.

In a post today, the social network also said that it will update its advertising policies to be ‘even more explicit’ to advertisers that the practice of ‘untargeting’ ethnic minorities in its campaigns is against Facebook’s terms of service.

‘Recently, policymakers and civil rights leaders have expressed concerns that advertisers could misuse some aspects of our affinity marketing segments. Specifically, they’ve raised the possibility that some advertisers might use these segments to run ads that discriminate against people, particularly in areas where certain groups have historically faced discrimination — housing, employment and the extension of credit.’

‘We take these issues seriously. Discriminator advertising has no place on Facebook.’

The Ethnic Affinity feature came online in November 0f 2014, but hit the headlines earlier this year when it was revealed that Universal Studios had served out two different trailers based on ethnic flags provided by the tool.

Facebook profiles have no facility to register ethnicity; the Ethnic Affinity tool describes itself well, in that it identifies users who identify with a particular culture; the ‘flag’ is an inference, though common sense would indicate that it represents a high chance of racial accuracy in its profile.

Federal law bans advertising that excludes consumers based on race and gender, among other factors.

In October Propublica was able to place a property ad with Facebook that excluded African-American, Asian or Hispanic consumers. Early in November four members of Congress demanded that Facebook cease to facilitate discrimination by advertisers.


The post reveals that the move has been prompted by meetings with significant groups and individuals concerned about the EA program, including New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, US Representative Linda Sánchez of California and U.S. Representative Robin Kelly of Illinois and the Congressional Black Caucus. The company also acknowledges a ‘constructive dialogue’ that it has participated in with Upturn, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Brookings Institution and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s privacy and public policy manager, commented on the changes to EA: ” We are going to have to build a solution to do this. It is not going to happen overnight.”


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