Facebook’s ad platform has received a ton of criticism, including from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleging that the site’s targeting options make it easy for advertisers to discriminate against users. The company responded in a big way this week, announcing the removal of over 5,000 ad targeting options to prevent misuse.
“While these options have been used in legitimate ways to reach people interested in a certain product or service, we think minimizing the risk of abuse is more important,” Facebook said in a blog post announcing the change. “This includes limiting the ability for advertisers to exclude audiences that relate to attributes such as ethnicity or religion.”
These categories are based on optional behavior, but they still left users vulnerable to discrimination from housing providers, employers, insurance companies and more. With just a few clicks, advertisers could steer ads away from ethnic groups, users belonging to a certain religion, geographic areas narrowed to a ZIP code, and more. Some of the targeting criteria also included military status, sexual orientation and national origin.
It’s shocking that it took so long into Facebook’s history for this problem to come to light. But now that it has, it’s a good thing the company has taken such a dramatic step to address it. So here’s hoping this change makes Facebook’s ads a little less creepy — or at least less discriminatory.