Facebook Adds New Measures to Enforce Targeting Restrictions on Potentially Discriminatory Ad Types

Facebook Adds New Measures to Enforce Targeting Restrictions on Potentially Discriminatory Ad Types


Following on from its efforts to limit discriminatory audience targeting in ads related to housing, employment or credit opportunities, Facebook has this week announced two new measures to further enforce its additional rules, and provide more transparency into its process.

First off, Facebook has announced that the new ad restrictions in these categories will now be applied across all of its various ad creation surfaces, including Ads Manager, Instagram Promote, the Facebook Marketing API and ads created via Facebook Pages.

The new restrictions for these ad types came into effect back in August, but up till now, they’ve only been fully enforced when those ads were purchased through Ads Manager. Now, the limitations will be uniform across Facebook’s ad surfaces, ensuring that the restrictions are more thoroughly enacted.

Further to this, Facebook is also adding all housing, employment and credit opportunity ads which have been approved to its Ad Archive, providing full transparency over such promotions. 

Facebook Ad Archive

As explained by Facebook:

“Beginning tomorrow, you’ll be able to search for and view all active housing opportunity ads targeted at the US that started running – or were edited – on or after December 4, 2019, regardless of whether you’re in the advertiser’s intended audience. You’ll be able to search the housing ad section by the name of the Page running an ad or the city or state to which the ad is targeted.”  

Employment and credit opportunity ads will be added to the Ad Library early next year, as Facebook works to expand the process. 

The changes stem from legal action taken against Facebook by various groups, including the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Communication Workers of America. Back in 2016, investigations found that Facebook’s ad targeting tools enabled advertisers to exclude black, Hispanic, and other “ethnic affinities” from seeing ads – ProPublica published this example at the time:

Discriminatory ad targeting on Facebook

Since then, Facebook has been working with these, and other groups, in order to phase out potential misuse of its ad tools. Earlier this year, Facebook reached a new settlement with leading civil rights organizations, and these added measures stem from that settlement.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that such discriminatory targeting has been eliminated entirely. As noted by various academics, the very nature of algorithm-defined systems means that levels of audience bias can still exist, whether they’re intended or not. 

In examining Facebook’s additional measures back in March, Washington University​ professor Pauline Kim told The New York Times that:

“It’s within the realm of possibility, depending on how the algorithm is constructed, that you could end up serving ads, inadvertently, to biased audiences.”

That, in part, is why adding these ads to the Ad Archive is a key step, because it will enable an extra level of scrutiny, which can then help Facebook avoid any such errors.

The new measures, which apply to advertisers based in the US, or those trying to reach audiences in the US, start going into effect from this week. 

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