Facebook to Stop Allowing Advertisers to Target by Race

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Facebook is making changes to its advertising products after coming under fire last month for allegedly letting promoters discriminate based on race.

The social network, in response to a recent ProPublica report, announced the rollout of new tools to detect and automatically disable "ethnic affinity" marketing.

The scheme—which determines interest based on pages and posts users like or engage with—essentially allows advertisers to exclude audience members who are African-American, Asian, or Hispanic. According to ProPublica, the practice is not only shocking, it's illegal.

Federal law prohibits housing and employment advertisements that exclude people based on race, gender, and other factors, including religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

There are "many non-discriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution," Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said in a blog post. The tool could, for instance, allow an organization hosting a career fair for the Hispanic community to reach only those people interested.

And the company's policies already prohibit discriminatory advertisements for, say, an apartment building that won't rent to black people or an employer that only hires men. Still, Facebook will suspend "these types of ads," Egan said.

The social network will update its Advertising Policies to be "even more explicit," and release new educational materials that better spell out advertisers' obligations with respect to housing, employment, and credit.

"We are making these changes to deter discrimination and strengthen our ability to enforce our policies," Egan said. "We look forward to finding additional ways to combat discrimination, while increasing opportunity."

She also promised continued dialogue with policy makers and civil rights leaders, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Brookings Institution, and Upturn.

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