It's been a busy day in the world of online advertising. The same morning that The Times released a shocking report insisting that many major brands had inadvertently funded extremist terror sties through unchecked programmatic advertising practices, Facebook has updated its advertising policies to ban discrimination based on a number of personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or age. Facebook has specifically moved against housing, employment and credit advertising which have been tailored to discriminate against certain demographics on the social network. The move follows accusations in autumn last year that the social network offered tools allowing advertisers to specifically exclude particular racial minorities in direct contravention of the law. It is unclear how many advertisers actually broke the rules in this regard, but Facebook insists such racist practices will not be accepted in the future, including ads which explicitly bar specific demographics from applying in their terms and conditions.
First highlighted in March last year, the 'affinity targeting' was intended to allow advertisers to target messages to specific audiences without getting into the murky ground of racial profiling. Facebook describes the feature as grouping people not by “their genetic makeup, but their affinity to the cultures they are interested in.” Although Facebook goes to great lengths to emphasise that the feature is not the same as racial profiling, a second wave of negative publicity arrived in October 2016, when ProPublica reported that the affinity targeting could be used to exclude particular groups from advertising for home sales. That is explicitly banned under the US Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Facebook stated in a blogpost: “Several organisations have asked us to work with them to help identify ways that our advertising technology could be used to promote inclusion and opportunity for underserved communities, while also protecting against discriminatory uses. We believe in the power of our advertising products to create opportunities for people from all backgrounds, so we are committed to working with these groups toward that goal.”
So, advertisers will no longer be able to avail themselves of Facebook’s multicultural affinity targeting system to exclude or focus their reach to chosen groups and anyone attempting to do so will be presented with a red flag warning that such advertising is no longer permissible. If any advertiser still manages to slip through the cracks despite these precautions, Facebook will use a machine learning algorithm to automatically detect adverts that violate the protocol and remove them. Advertisers who think they have been targeted unfairly will have the opportunity to request a manual review. Users and advertisers will begin to notice the changes from today, with the rest of the world following suit shortly thereafter.