Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the day before yesterday (24th July 2018) that Facebook has been found guilty of providing discriminatory advertisements on its platform. The platform provides third-party advertisers with the option to exclude ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and other protected groups from seeing their ads. If these groups cannot see the ads at all, they are deprived of the opportunities provided in the advertisements.
Source: Office of the Attorney General
Following this verdict, Facebook has signed a legally binding agreement to make changes to its advertising platform within 90 days. According to this agreement,
- Facebook will no longer provide advertisers with options to exclude ethnic groups from advertisements for housing, credit, employment, insurance and public accommodations ads.
- Facebook will no longer provide advertisers with tools to discriminate based on race, creed, color, national origin, veteran or military status, sexual orientation and disability status.
This matter was first brought to light by ProRepublica in 2016 when they went undercover and bought multiple rental housing ads on Facebook, where certain categories of users were excluded from seeing the ads. According to ProPublica, “Every single ad was approved within minutes.” The allegations in this news were alarming and the AG’s office decided to investigate. They used the platform to create 20 fake ads that excluded one or more ethnic minorities from receiving their advertising. Despite these exclusions, Facebook’s advertising platform approved all 20 ads.
“Facebook’s advertising platform allowed unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, disability, and religion,” said Ferguson. “That’s wrong, illegal, and unfair.”
The Attorney General’s investigation found the platform’s unlawful targeting options as an act of unfair acts and practices, and in violation of the state Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
This led to the development of a permanent and legal binding agreement that aims to cover all loopholes and prevent Facebook from offering discriminating advertising in any form. However, Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer with Outten & Golden LLP points out that the “agreement does nothing to address age discrimination or gender discrimination on Facebook”. This agreement is legally binding in Washington state. Facebook has agreed to change its platform nationwide. Apart from fixing its advertising platform within 90 days, they are also entitled to pay the Washington State AGs Office $90,000 in costs and fees.
This agreement is a win not just for the citizens of Washington state but also the United States. Facebook has agreed to implement its improved advertising options nationwide. But this is a very small step for the entire world. The ball is in Facebook’s court now. We’ll have to wait and see if it proactively generalizes these policies on a worldwide scale or if it needs the public and the law to hold Facebook accountable for the power its platform holds over the lives of its over 2 billion users.
EU slaps Google with $5 billion fine for the Android antitrust case
Furthering the Net Neutrality debate, GOP proposes the 21st Century Internet Act
20 lessons on bias in machine learning systems by Kate Crawford at NIPS 2017