Facebook puts some limits on controversial, quasi-racial ad targeting option

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No, Facebook isn’t getting rid of its pseudo-racial ad targeting option. No, it hasn’t decided to prevent advertisers from using it to exclude their ads from being shown to people with “affinities” to certain ethnicities. Instead it’s excluding a few types of ads from being targeted based on people’s “ethnic affinities.”

Two weeks ago Facebook’s ethnic affinity ad-targeting option — which identifies people who may be interested in topics specific to a certain ethnicity but aren’t necessarily of that ethnicity — caught a lot of negative attention, including from members of Congress, after ProPublica drew new attention to how the option could be used as a proxy for discriminating against people of certain races, which can be illegal if those ads are promoting things like housing or job listings.

Now Facebook has come up with a way to identify when ethnic affinity targeting is being used for housing-, employment- or credit-related ads and will reject those ads, the company announced on Friday in a blog post. And Facebook said it will be more blatant in its Advertising Policies, which brands must agree to before buying ads, that brands’ ads are not allowed to discriminate against people.

Facebook also said that it’s trying to figure out how brands can use the ad-targeting option for positive ends, but didn’t provide specifics. Additionally the company said it will provide new information to inform advertisers how to keep their housing-, employment- and credit-related ads within Facebook’s new guidelines.

A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions sent on Thursday night asking how specifically Facebook will identify whether ethnic affinity targeting is being used for one of the prohibited ad categories and whether it will be possible for those ads to be shown to people before Facebook is able to identify and remove them.


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