One of the things that makes Facebook so useful to advertisers is the advanced targeting. Google has a vast user base, and they have a lot of data about its users. When combined with a robust algorithm, Facebook Ads can be used to reach any target demographic. However, Facebook's targeting system can be abused if it's used to target ads in a discriminatory way. To reduce the possibility of their ad system being misused, Facebook has removed some targeting options from certain ad types.

Last year, the National Housing Alliance brought a case against Facebook, claiming that their ad services were being used to send housing ads in a way that violated the law. In response to this litigation, Facebook has removed the ability to target by gender, race or age when creating ads for housing.

As Sheryl Sandburg, Facebook’s COO, wrote, “One of our top priorities is protecting people from discrimination on Facebook. Today, we’re announcing changes in how we manage housing, employment and credit ads on our platform. These changes are the result of historic settlement agreements with leading civil rights organizations and ongoing input from civil rights experts.”

Because online advertising is personalized, it makes it easier for discriminatory ads to go unnoticed. For example, if someone sees an ad in their Facebook feed, they wouldn't necessarily know that the ad was targeted to them because of the age, race or gender. Similarly, the person may assume that everyone else saw the same ad when that might not be the case. For example, an advertisement for an expensive house may not be shown to specific groups, and that violates the Fair Housing Act. However, the only way to know that would be to see all the ads that everyone is being served.

After some digging by various groups, it became clear that Facebook Ads were being misused to serve ads in a biased way that violated the law. Facebook’s latest announcements are part of a settlement that will address these issues.

According to Facebook, “Advertisers offering housing, employment and credit opportunities will have a much smaller set of targeting categories to use in their campaigns overall. Multicultural affinity targeting will continue to be unavailable for these ads. Additionally, any detailed targeting option describing or appearing to relate to protected classes will also be unavailable. We’re building a tool so you can search for and view all current housing ads in the US targeted to different places across the country, regardless of whether the ads are shown to you.”

These changes are good for Facebook advertisers since it prevents unintentional illegal activity. Business owners who are using the self-serve advertising options from Facebook may not know everything they should about what is legal and ethical for ad campaigns. These updates from Facebook eliminate the possibility for improper targeting on ad campaigns.

Marketers should check all of their ads to make sure they aren’t accidentally discriminating when they create their targeting options. Similarly, Facebook will soon send out warnings for current ad campaigns that will need to be changed to fit the new guidelines.

For more recent news about Facebook, read this article on some additional measures Facebook has taken to improve accuracy and accountability.