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Facebook Is Removing More Than 5,000 Ad Targeting Options To Prevent Discrimination

Advertisers will no longer be able to hide their ads from people interested in things like “Passover,” “Evangelicalism,” “Native American culture,” “Islamic culture,” and “Buddhism.”

Last updated on August 21, 2018, at 3:54 p.m. ET

Posted on August 21, 2018, at 11:31 a.m. ET

Jon Nazca / Reuters

Facebook is planning to remove more than 5,000 ad targeting options in an effort to prevent discriminatory advertising.

The bulk of the 5,000 targeting options, slated for removal by this fall, could be used as proxies by advertisers looking to identify and exclude ethnic and religious groups.

A business that didn’t want Jewish people patronizing it could exclude those interested in “Passover” from seeing its ads. A landlord that didn’t want to rent to Native Americans could exclude those interested in “Native American culture.” Now, these options and thousands more like them are going away, a sign that Facebook is starting to come to terms with the various ways its platform can be manipulated.

“We're committed to protecting people from discriminatory advertising on our platforms. That's why we're removing over 5,000 targeting options to help prevent misuse,” the company said in a blog post. “While these options have been used in legitimate ways to reach people interested in a certain product or service, we think minimizing the risk of abuse is more important. This includes limiting the ability for advertisers to exclude audiences that relate to attributes such as ethnicity or religion.”

Facebook’s removal of the targeting options comes amid an investigation from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which filed a complaint last week alleging Facebook had enabled discriminatory housing practices with its ad targeting options. The complaint began a process that could eventually lead to a federal lawsuit.

Facebook, which will also now require all US advertisers to review and certify they accept the company's nondiscrimination policy, told BuzzFeed News the timing of these moves is not related to HUD’s activity. “We’ve been building these tools for a long time and collecting input from different outside groups,” a spokesperson said.

HUD’s complaint follows years of reports pointing out possible discriminatory uses of Facebook targeting, including multiple reports from ProPublica that first identified the problematic targeting, and then showed Facebook hadn’t fully cleaned it up after pledging fixes.

Facebook is popular among advertisers because it gives them access to an audience of 2.2 billion users and allows them to slice and dice that audience with precision, so they can reach the exact people they’re looking for. But offering such precise targeting to its advertising customers left Facebook exposed to various forms of manipulation, necessitating the cleanup it’s now undertaking in response.

Here’s the Facebook blog post:

Keeping Advertising Safe & Civil

Earlier this year, we shared ways we're working to prevent misuse of our ad platform. Today we're providing some updates to our ad targeting tools and education that align with our advertising principles.

Removing some targeting options
We're committed to protecting people from discriminatory advertising on our platforms. That's why we're removing over 5,000 targeting options to help prevent misuse. While these options have been used in legitimate ways to reach people interested in a certain product or service, we think minimizing the risk of abuse is more important. This includes limiting the ability for advertisers to exclude audiences that relate to attributes such as ethnicity or religion.

Expanding advertiser education
We want to help educate advertisers about their obligations under our policies. For over a year, we have required advertisers we identify offering housing, employment or credit ads to certify compliance with our non-discrimination policy. In the coming weeks, this new certification will roll out gradually to all US advertisers via our Ads Manager tool. Advertisers will be required to complete this certification in order to continue advertising on Facebook. We've designed this education in consultation with outside experts to underscore the difference between acceptable ad targeting and ad discrimination.

We'll expand this to advertisers using our other tools and APIs, and those in additional countries, over time.


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