Published: Fri, November 24, 2017
Hi-Tech | By Ellis Neal

Facebook still lets housing ads discriminate against Jews and other minorities

Facebook still lets housing ads discriminate against Jews and other minorities

However, a new study by ProPublica suggests that their enforcement efforts aren't living up to those promises.

"The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure", Vora added.

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to publish housing advertisements that indicate "any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin".

The ads targeted men and women, aged 18-65, living in New York City, and highlighted categories such as "first-time buyer", "house hunting", and "buying a house". Journalists bought dozens of ads for rental housing but asked that they not be visible to user groups such as Jews, Spanish speakers and African Americans, among others. These ads were approved quickly thanks to Facebook's algorithmic approval process. Facebook approved the ads immediately, ProPublica says.

Although Facebook's policies should have resulted in the ads being flagged and prevented from posting, this didn't happen. "We heard concerns that discriminatory advertising can wrongfully deprive people of opportunities and experiences, particularly in the areas of housing, employment and credit, where certain groups historically have faced discrimination".

In a statement, Ami Vora, vice president of product management at Facebook, blamed the incident on a "technical failure".

Facebook admitted it allowed the ads, and apologized for the error in a statement.

The company said all the way back in November of a year ago, after ProPublica's initial report, that it would no longer allow ads for housing, credit, or employment that target based on "ethnic affinity", the loose term Facebook uses to identify race-related profiles built using user-reported information.

In September, Facebook acknowledged it was possible to target ads to people who have expressed interest in such anti-Semitic topics as "Jew hater", "how to burn Hews" or "History of 'Why Jews ruin the world.' " Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said Facebook was taking steps to stop marketers from being able to target ads in offensive ways through its self-service ad-buying system.

All of these ads are in direct violation of US Fair Housing laws, and possibly Australian laws as well. Going forward, the company will require all advertisers that block ads from some categories of users to confirm to comply with Facebook's anti-discrimination policies.

She also said "tens of thousands" of advertisers have confirmed they are in compliance with Facebook's tighter restrictions.

At its scale, Facebook, which has more than 2 billion monthly active users, relies heavily on automated software to sell ads and to monitor activity on the social network. Our systems continue to improve but we can do better.

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