The settlement encompasses sweeping changes that the tech giant will make to its paid advertising platform to prevent discrimination in employment, housing, and credit advertising.
Taking concerns seriously
Since late 2016, Facebook has faced legal pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, Outten & Golden LLP, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), job seekers and consumers, and fair housing and civil rights organizations. These cases collectively challenged Facebook’s paid ad platform, alleging that it enabled advertisers to exclude Facebook users from receiving job, housing, or credit ads based on race, sex, age, or other protected classes, in violation of federal and state civil rights laws. Under the settlement, Facebook will take proactive steps to prevent advertisers from engaging in unlawful discrimination when sending job, housing, or credit ads to users of Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. Facebook chief operating office Sheryl Sandberg said that with the help of civil rights experts, it has reformed its ad targeting practices, with housing, employment and credit ads no longer allowed to target by age, gender or zip code, nor to ‘protected classes.’ Ms Sandberg added that Facebook is building a tool so that people can search for and view all current housing ads in the US targeted to different places across the country. The company had already removed thousands of categories from targeting, related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. Facebook said it is taking the concerns seriously and that it has hired civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax to review its ads tools and help guard against misuse, as part of the civil rights audit.
Holding all employers accountable
Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, explained ‘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.’ He said, ‘we are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.’ Sara Steffens, secretary-treasurer of CWA, said ‘our campaign seeks justice for workers who have been unfairly locked out of opportunities by employers who deny their ads to older workers or women. All workers deserve a fair chance to get a good job.’ Peter Romer-Friedman, a civil rights attorney at Outten & Golden, warned ‘this settlement takes away digital tools that advertisers can use to deny equal opportunity. We will continue our efforts to hold employers accountable for using Facebook’s platform to discriminate.’