Update: Facebook will ban advertisers from using “ethnic affinity” targeting.
After a backlash by civil rights groups, Facebook users, Congressional Black Caucus and other U.S. lawmakers, Facebook has announced they will no longer allow users to use “ethnic affinity” to target users by their ethnicity.
“Recently, policymakers and civil rights leaders have expressed concerns that advertisers could misuse some aspects of our affinity marketing segments,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s vice president of U.S. public policy and chief privacy officer, said in a blog post. “Specifically, they’ve raised the possibility that some advertisers might use these segments to run ads that discriminate against people, particularly in areas where certain groups have historically faced discrimination — housing, employment and the extension of credit.”
The Congressional Black Caucus has taken a stand against a Facebook advertising feature, Ethnic Affinities, which allows for businesses to exclude ethnic groups and races from receiving housing advertisements. Lawmakers argue the Facebook advertising program is a violation of anti-discrimination housing laws.
In an open letter addressed to Facebook’s CEO, the Congressional Black Caucus write they are concerned about the “Ethnic Affinities” advertising feature.
“We are writing to express our deep concerns with reports that Facebook’s ‘Ethnic Affinities’ advertising customization feature allows for advertisers to exclude specific racial and ethnic groups when placing housing advertisements.”
The Caucus added, “This is in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and it is our strong desire to see Facebook address this issue immediately,” reads the letter.
However, Facebook responded to the lawmakers by arguing that this type of advertising is commonplace in the advertising industry.
“We’ve heard from groups and policy makers who are concerned about some of the ways our targeting tools could be used by advertisers. We are listening and working to better understand these concerns.”
The Facebook feature is called “Ethnic Affinities” and it lets advertisers posting ads for an apartment or house to target certain races and ethnic groups and exclude others.
It is important to point out that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it illegal to “make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.”
This news comes after Facebook announced their quarterly earnings. Current estimates suggest Facebook is on track to earn $27 billion in revenue this year. So far, in the company’s third quarter the social media giant was able to increase by 56% and earn $2.38 billion. However, Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer Dave Wehner said that the advertising growth will eventually “come down”. But, the company plans to increase engagement, users and time spent on the app by adding additional video features.