The saga of Facebook allowing racially discriminatory ads took another twist this week when the company abruptly announced it would put the feature on hold until a technical solution can be found.
ProPublica first uncovered the feature last year, which gave housing advertisers the ability to target Facebook ads based on race, religion and more. This is not allowed under U.S. fair housing laws, and Facebook vowed it would fix the problem. However, ProPublica issued a follow-up report last week that found it was still possible to purchase discriminatory ads on the site. Now, Facebook has taken the dramatic step of suspending the tool altogether.
“Until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately, we are disabling the option that permits advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity segments from the audience for their ads,” Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) this week.
The CBC was one of the first political groups to raise real concerns with Facebook’s practices last year, stating that “by allowing online advertisers to promote or market a community or home for the purpose of sale to select an ‘ethnic affinity’ as part of their advertising campaign, Facebook is complicit in promoting restrictive housing practices.”
It’s encouraging that Facebook acted so strongly and quickly to shut down the feature once they realized what was wrong. However, the question remains: what will Facebook do to actually fix it?