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Facebook's ad system shown failing to enforce its own anti-discriminatory policy

Facebook's ad system shown failing to enforce its own anti-discriminatory policy
From TechCrunch - November 22, 2017

Can Facebook be trusted to abide by even its own stated standards? In the case of Internet political advertising the social giant wants to be allowed to continue to self regulatedespite the scandal of Russian bought socially divisive ads which (we now know) were tainting democratic discussion during the 2016 US presidential election (and beyond).

Dont regulate us, we can regulate ourselveshonest! is shaping up to be CEO Mark Zuckerbergs massively moonshot new year project for 2018.

But results from a new ProPublica investigation suggest the tech giant is failing at even simple self-policingundermining any claims it can responsibly manage the bad and even out-and-out illegal outcomes that are being enabled via its platform, and bolstering the case for more formal regulation.

Case in point: A year ago Facebook said it would disable ethnic affinity ad targeting for housing, employment and credit-related ads, following aProPublicainvestigation that had suggested the platforms ad-targeting capabilities could be used for discriminatory advertisingparticularly in housing and employment, where such practices are illegal.

This month ProPublica checked in again, to see how Facebook is doingby purchasing dozens of rental housing ads and asking that Facebooks ad platform exclude groups that are protected from discrimination under the US Federal Fair Housing Actsuch as African Americans and Jews.

Its test ads promoted a fictional apartment for rent, targeted at people aged 18 to 65 who were living in New York, house hunting and likely to movewith ProPublica narrowing the audience by excluding certain Behaviors, listed in a section Facebook now calls Multicultural Affinity, including Hispanic, African American and Asian American.

However instead of the platform blocking the potentially discriminatory ad buys, ProPublica reports that all its ads were approved by Facebook within minutesincluding an ad that sought to exclude potential renters interested in Islam, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. It says that ad took the longest to approve of all its buys (22 minutes)but that all the rest were approved within three minutes.

It also successfully bought ads that it judged Facebooks system should at least flag for self-certification because they were seeking to exclude other members of protected categories. But the platform just accepted housing ads blocked from being shown to categories including soccer moms, people interested in American sign language, gay men and people interested in wheelchair ramps.

Yet, back in February, Facebook announced new stronger anti-discriminatory ad polices, saying it was deploying machine learning tech tools to help it identify ads in the categories of concern.

Weve updatedour policiestomake our existing prohibition against discrimination even stronger. We make it clear that advertisers may not discriminate against people based on personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, medical or genetic condition, it wrote then.

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