Facebook is no stranger to controversy surrounding its advertising practices. The company has repeatedly been accused of allowing marketers to use its targeted ad tools to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, religion and more. Of course, there are legitimate reasons why a company would want to tailor its advertising to reach a specific audience. However, when it comes to issues such as housing, this profiling can be in violation of federal law. And while Facebook has vowed to do better, a new report this week found that discriminatory ads can still be found everywhere on the platform.
According to civil rights advocates, this not only presents a problem because of obvious legal issues but also because the content being served to users is based on broad stereotypes.
“Facebook claims that it is just giving the user what they want. However, this argument assumes away the fundamental allegation in this case: that the algorithmic processes that Facebook employs to infer a user’s preferences and deliver different advertisements to users discriminate on the basis of the user’s characteristics, including race, gender, and age,” the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wrote in a court filing. “Facebook is not giving the user what the user wants — Facebook is giving the user what it thinks a demographic stereotype wants.”
Facebook may have had the right idea originally by allowing marketers to hyper-target their content. But as with many of the company’s problems, its own systems have seemingly gotten away from it.
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