Facebook Poised To Resolve Battle Over Discriminatory Ads

Facebook appears to be poised to settle lawsuits in New York and California accusing it of violating housing laws by facilitating ads that discriminate.

In the New York case, the National Fair Housing Alliance and other advocacy groups alleged that Facebook enables landlords and brokers to place ads that discriminate against women, families with children, people with disabilities and other people protected by civil rights laws.

This week, U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan dismissed that lawsuit -- but with a provision specifying that the case can be revived within 45 days if it isn't resolved out of court.

The move came at the request of Facebook and the advocacy groups; they previously said in a letter to Koeltl that they were meeting with a mediator and making “progress toward settlement.”

The other lawsuit, which is pending in front of U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California, alleges that Facebook enables race-based targeting of housing and employment ads.

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Three weeks ago, Facebook and the plaintiffs in that matter told Davila they had made “significant progress towards resolving this action.”

The San Jose lawsuit was brought in November of 2016, soon 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.

After ProPublica's initial report, Facebook updated its ad guidelines to strengthen prohibitions against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, or medical or genetic condition.

The company also said it would require advertisers offering housing and employment ads to certify compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

Despite the move, ProPublica reported in November of 2017 that the company still allowed advertisers to prevent minorities from viewing housing ads. Several months after that subsequent report, the National Fair Housing Alliance sued Facebook in New York.

Last year, Facebook eliminated 5,000 ad-targeting options, including ones that enabled discrimination based on ethnicity or religion.

Among other segments, Facebook removed advertisers' ability to block ads from being seen by users interested in things like “Passover,” “Evangelicalism,” “Native American culture,” “Islamic culture,” and “Buddhism.”

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