Facebook Settles Ad Discrimination Lawsuits

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 01, 2019 3:32 PM

Clearing five cases from the dockets, Facebook has agreed to change practices that have allowed advertisers to discriminate by targeting users based on their age, race, gender and other characteristics.

The settlements, including three lawsuits and two complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, resolve years of claims against Facebook. The plaintiffs said Facebook advertisers have been violating civil rights laws in housing, employment and credit.

Facebook announced that it will make "major changes to its targeting tools." If it sounds familiar, that's because it's not the first time the company has been in trouble over targeting users.

Targeted Ads

The settlements involved five different groups of plaintiffs, including the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Communications Workers or America. The American Civil Liberties Union also represented housing organizations, individual consumers and job seekers.

Without admitting wrongdoing, Facebook agreed to change its tools for ads in industries protected by federal civil rights laws.

"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," COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in company blog post. "We can do better."

The settlements evolved from an investigation in 2016 that advertisers could target users in certain industries by race. In 2017, Facebook said it had fixed the problem, but it reportedly didn't work.

Housing, Employment, and Credit

In the settlement agreements, Facebook said it will build a designated portal for advertisers in housing, employment, and credit. Those advertisers will not be able to target users by any category prohibited by federal law.

Meanwhile, the company is facing state and federal investigations for its privacy and data practices. Its most notorious case of targeting users, however, occurred during the 2016 presidential election.

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