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Facebook limits ad targeting following discrimination settlement

It's making it harder to run discriminatory ads.
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AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Facebook has settled the lawsuit accusing the company of violating housing discrimination law through its ad system, and it's making changes to reduce the chances of future issues with housing ads and beyond. Marketers who want to run ads for credit, employment or housing will no longer have options to target using age, gender or ZIP code. They'll also have a "much smaller" range of categories to use in the first place, and won't have access to "detailed" targeting that relates to protected social classes. As a user, you'll eventually have access to a tool to search for housing ads targeted at locations across the US, even if you wouldn't normally see them.

The changes should take effect before the end of 2019. The settlement also includes payouts under $5 million to the groups that filed the lawsuit, $2.5 million of which is going to the National Fair Housing Alliance to both train advertisers on compliance and run ads for fair housing.

Facebook had culled some ad targeting options before, but this is a far more substantial move. In many cases, it will limit certain advertisers to only very generic targeting criteria like your region. There's a good possibility that this will lead some advertisers to scale back or withdraw their ads.

However, the company might not have had much choice. The lawsuit pointed out that Facebook's earlier options made it possible to run ads that discriminated against minorities, seniors, the disabled and other groups. If it didn't loosen its guidelines, it faced mounting pressure from civil rights groups, HUD and others concerned that it was reviving the concept of redlining for the modern era.

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