Google will restrict advertisers targeting ads for jobs, housing and credit

Ads for housing, jobs and credit cannot be targeted based on gender or location.

Ben Gabbe via Getty Images

Like many ad platforms, Google lets businesses target their spend towards people who are in their desired customer base. That’s smart and efficient if you sell a niche product to a small group of folks, but it’s a tool that can be open to abuse. Google has announced that it is changing its policies to block businesses from posting targeted ads for jobs, housing, and credit.

In a blog post, Google’s Scott Spencer says that the company has been working with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The change will mean that “impacted employment, housing and credit advertisers” will not be able to target ads based on “gender, age, parental status, marital status or address.” This, it’s hoped, will reduce the opportunities for businesses to discriminate against its potential customers.

Ad targeting at Google already expressly prohibits -- as per federal law -- targeting these ads on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual origin, national origin or disability. By widening the scope to include things like zip codes, it should reduce the ability for banks to engage in redlining. That’s the practice of indirectly discriminating based not on individual characteristics, but the communities they live in.

Last year, Facebook was charged with violating the Fair Housing Act both by the National Fair Housing Alliance (which was settled) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The site was accused of enabling discrimination by allowing landlords and real estate brokers to target ads. Specifically, by blocking ads to people who were non-Christian, had an interest in “Hispanic culture” and working parents.