Facebook’s advertising platform had allowed buyers to exclude certain races, genders, and age ranges from seeing its ads, and because of that, it had five different discrimination lawsuits pending. But all five lawsuits got settled in one fell swoop Tuesday afternoon, as the Washington Post reports that Facebook agreed to dismantle and rebuild is ad platforms for credit, employment, and housing advertisements.
Hiding ads from certain races and age ranges is generally unethical, but actually illegal in sectors like employment and housing. Facebook really ran wild with the practice, as ProPublica investigations found that buyers could target housing and employment ads to whites only, or to exclude African Americans, Jews, or people who primarily speak Spanish.
The $5 million penalty Facebook will pay is peanuts, because Facebook probably spends more than $5 million on break-room coffee on any given day. It’s certainly not an existential threat to the company the way Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed as part of her presidential campaign, either. What’s significant, though, is that the company won’t allow targeting by age, race, gender, or ZIP code in housing, employment, and credit ads.
“We’ve removed thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. But we can do better,” Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a statement. “Getting this right is deeply important to me and all of us at Facebook because inclusivity is a core value for our company.”
These sound like nice platitudes, but yet another Facebook ad age discrimination lawsuit resumes next month. In that suit, Amazon and T-Mobile are accused of hiding job postings from anyone 38 years old or older.