For businesses that rely on Facebook’s micro-targeting options, there’s a significant change coming.  To settle pending lawsuits for violations of federal law, Facebook will take away some targeting options for advertisers.  These targeting options violated federal Fair Housing, Employment, and Credit laws by discriminating against protected classes.

Advertisers targeting jobs, housing, or credit will not be able to use Facebook to target using these categories:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Zip Codes
  • “Lookalike Audiences”

That’s a massive change.

The National Fair Housing Alliance was one of the groups suing Facebook, claiming the company violated federal law by excluding minorities and women from ads, or only including other audience segments.  It also allowed for targeting or exclusion of family status (for example, parents of children under two).

“Facebook continues to enable landlords and real estate brokers to bar families with children, women, and others from receiving rental and sales ads for housing. Facebook has created a prepopulated list of demographics, behaviors, and interests that makes it possible for housing advertisers to exclude certain home seekers from ever seeing their ads. Facebook’s conduct is illegal under the FHA.” – NFHA Lawsit against Facebook

The social media company was also staring at 4 other lawsuits for discrimination concerning its advertising targeting policies.

New Ad Portals

As part of the agreement, Wired reports that Facebook will build designated ad portals for housing, employment, and credit ads and disable targeting and exclusion.  In addition, it will remove geographical boundaries for viewing housing.


“Our policies already prohibit advertisers from using our tools to discriminate. We’ve removed thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion.” – Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook in a post

“There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads,” Sandberg said in an online post.  “Housing, employment and credit ads are crucial to helping people buy new homes, start great careers, and gain access to credit. They should never be used to exclude or harm people. Getting this right is deeply important to me and all of us at Facebook because inclusivity is a core value for our company.”

Optimization Also Causes Issues

It’s not as easy as turning off options.  Even if an advertiser placed an ad with no restrictions, algorithms are built to optimize ad performance.  Over time, as the algorithm kicked in, it might show the ad primarily to a particular group.  If men, for example, were much more likely to click on the ad, it could exclude women from seeing the ad in an effort to optimize the performance.

Settling Lawsuits

You can read the original lawsuit here.  The NY Times reports that FB expects to make the changes before year end and will also pay out $5 million to settle the lawsuits.


H/T Wired, NY Times, NFHA

Sheryl Sandberg Photo:  By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland – Sheryl Sandberg – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2011, CC BY-SA 2.0,