Facebook will pay $5 million (£3.8m) to civil rights groups that accused the social network of letting advertisers block minorities from housing, jobs and access to finance.
The social network has promised to make sweeping changes to its targeted advertising systems to weed out discrimination and advertiser abuse after settling five “historic” lawsuits that were filed between November 2016 and September 2018.
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the American Civil Liberties Union, the Communications Workers of America, and a number of individual consumers and job seekers claimed that Facebook’s advertising tools allowed credit agencies, employers and landlords to avoid showing adverts to users based on their sex, race, family status and disabilities.
An investigation by the NFHA found that estate agents could, using Facebook’s own terminology, “exclude” women, ethnic minorities and those of a certain race from receiving housing adverts.
NHFA president Lisa Rice told the Telegraph she feared bias in technology was contributing to ingrained racial tensions across the country. She said: “This is a historic settlement but we are still billing this as a first step because there are all kinds of ways that algorithmic based formulas can perpetuate discrimination in our marketplaces.
“The one area where this segregation is really entrenched is where people live. Our communities are hyper-segregated and this fuels all kinds of inequalities which get picked up in data, and that data gets used by algorithmic systems which perpetuate, manifest and reflect discrimination and bias that is complicit within our society.”
Facebook will start blocking anyone running housing, employment and credit adverts from targeting people based on race, gender, sexual orientation and religion, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg announced on Tuesday.
She said: “Housing, employment, and credit ads are crucial to helping people buy new homes, start great careers, and gain access to credit. They should never be used to exclude or harm people. Getting this right is deeply important to me and all of us at Facebook because inclusivity is a core value for our company.”
In 2017 an investigation found advertisers could target anti-semites who had expressed an interest in the topics "Jew hater", "How to burn Jews" and "History of 'why Jews ruin the world'".