Facebook to change ad targeting policy to settle discrimination lawsuits

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Facebook on Tuesday agreed to end some ad targeting features to settle lawsuits from a top civil rights association and others alleging that the social media giant allowed employers to manipulate its paid platform to discriminate against people of color, older Americans and other populations.

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On top of a nearly $5 million in payments, Facebook agreed to prohibit those posting ads for housing, employment and credit on its namesake platform and Instagram from targeting individual users by gender, age and zip code. Ads for other products will still have access to the same targeting tools.

"Our work is far from over. We’re committed to doing more, and we look forward to engaging in serious consultation and work with key civil rights groups, experts and policymakers to help us find the right path forward," Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post.

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The Menlo Park, California-based company will also create a separate page where users can view all recent real estate-related ads and mandate advertisers certify that posts are compliant with federal anti-discrimination laws, among other steps.

The settlement comes after the American Civil Liberties Association (ACLU), the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and others filed legal suits and complaints against Facebook in recent years on the issue.

“As the internet — and platforms like Facebook — play an increasing role in connecting us all to information related to economic opportunities, it’s crucial that micro-targeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU. “We expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”

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Tuesday's announcement does not address the ongoing class action lawsuits and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges from the CWA and others that employers including T-Mobile and Amazon used Facebook's ad platform to exclude certain audiences from seeing job postings.