Facebook lets advertisers exclude targets based on ‘ethnic affinity’: report

With all the information Facebook knows about its users, what it can offer advertisers is unique and largely unprecedented: very specific targeting. It is also allowing advertisers to exclude users by “ethnic affinity,” which appears to be against federal laws prohibiting racial discrimination.

ProPublica reports that using the social network’s self-service ad portal, it was able to buy a housing-related ad that excluded users with African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic “ethnic affinities” in the United States. In other words, within 15 minutes, it was able to buy an ad that would be seen mostly by white Americans.

“This is about as blatant a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act as one can find,” John Relman, a civil rights lawyer, told the publication.

But the social network says it’s all part of a “multicultural advertising” effort it began a couple of years ago, and that “ethnic affinity” doesn’t necessarily mean race. The social network assigns members an “ethnic affinity” based on what posts and pages they have liked or engaged with on Facebook, a company executive told ProPublica.

Advertisers need to be able to include and exclude certain groups when they target ads, Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook, told the publication.

However, “targeting ads for housing, credit, or employment based upon race, gender, or sexual orientation violates the federal civil-rights laws that cover those fields—the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and Title VII,” Rachel Goodman, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Atlantic.

A Facebook spokesperson told the Atlantic that the ad placed by ProPublica was not promoting a property, but an event about renters’ rights.


Photo by Associated Press


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  • Frank N

    I suspect Goodman is wrong. We can already choose not to advertise in black, Hispanic, Russian, Jewish, sports, or women’s media. I hope we never reach that degree of PC censorship.