Facebook will prohibit marketers from using a race-based targeting option for ads offering housing, employment or credit, the company said today.
"There are many non-discriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads," Vice President Erin Egan stated today in a blog post.
Egan added that Facebook plans to update its ad policies to require advertisers to promise they won't "engage in discriminatory advertising."
The move comes two weeks after ProPublica reported that Facebook enables advertisers to prevent their ads from being shown to users who belong to certain "ethnic affinity" groups -- including people the social networking believes have an ethnic affinity of black, Asian-American and Hispanic.
ProPublica said it was able to use Facebook's self-service tool to create an ad for an event aimed at renters, and then block it from pages of users with black, Asian-American or Hispanic ethnic affinities.
The news drew complaints by lawmakers, and also sparked a potential class-action civil rights lawsuit.
Egan said in her post that the company has recently had talks with numerous organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Brookings Institution, and Upturn. "We will continue to explore ways that our ethnic affinity solution can be used to promote inclusion of underrepresented communities, and we will continue to work with stakeholders toward that goal," she wrote.
The company's new policy drew praise from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "We welcome Facebook’s announcement that it wants to look for other ways to combat discrimination, and look forward to further conversations with Facebook to ensure robust and specific prohibitions against discriminatory ad targeting based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other protected characteristics,” Wade Henderson, CEO of the advocacy group, said in a statement.