Meta wasn’t showing the elderly and women the same housing ads as everyone else. It now says its new ad-targeting algorithm won’t discriminate.
- Meta Platforms unveiled a new ad-targeting algorithm on Monday that will impact housing and credit ads.
- The move comes nearly four years after the company was sued for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act.
- Meta and its Facebook platform will be under federal oversight until June 2026 to monitor its progress.
Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, launched a new ad-targeting algorithm on Monday after settling a lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act.
The move is the culmination of nearly four years of litigation and negotiations between the US government and the tech giant. These efforts began in March 2019 when the US Department of Housing and Urban development filed a claim against the company for “enabling housing discrimination” with its targeted advertising algorithms. Six months later, a class action lawsuit was filed against Facebook, alleging that the platform discriminated against the elderly and women by not showing them the same housing and financial services advertisements as everyone else.
In home sales and rentals, the Fair Housing Act forbids the discrimination of anyone due to their sex, religion, color, gender, disabilities, or familial status.
Meta’s ad-targeting algorithms have been regularly scrutinized for discriminatory practices. The company has also been investigated for allegedly contributing to widespread discrimination in employment and hiring based on people’s age and gender.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have accused Meta of “digital redlining” by allowing advertisers to select the demographics of people they do and do not want their ads to be shown to. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in January 2022 arguing that these practices are a civil rights violation, and that the company shouldn’t be shielded from scrutiny because the discrimination took place online.
Meta settled the lawsuit with the DOJ — who sued the company on behalf of HUD — in June 2022 and agreed to build a new ad-targeting system as part of the deal. On Monday, the company launched its new system, called a Variance Reduction System, for housing advertisements in the US. Meta said it plans to expand its use to employment and credit ads, according to a blog post on the company’s website.
Meta added that it has also ended its use of its Special Ads Audience feature as of August 2022. The feature allowed advertisers to select specific demographic groups to target and distribute ads to for housing, employment, and loans.
“Across the industry, approaches to algorithmic fairness are still evolving, particularly as it relates to digital advertising,” the blog post reads in part. “But we know we cannot wait for consensus to make progress in addressing important concerns about the potential for discrimination — especially when it comes to housing, employment, and credit ads, where the enduring effects of historically unequal treatment still have the tendency to shape economic opportunities.”
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the DOJ’s civil rights division, said Meta’s new system represents “a pivotal step” in holding large tech companies accountable for discriminatory actions. Meta’s progress will be subject to federal oversight through June 2026, according to the settlement.