DOJ, Meta reach settlement on allegations of discriminatory advertising

·2 min read

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday said that it has reached a settlement agreement with Meta, the owner of Facebook, over allegations of discriminatory advertising on its social media platforms.

In a statement, the DOJ said that Meta has until Dec. 31 to stop using an advertising tool for housing ads known as “Special Ad Audience” (previously called “Lookalike Audience”) that relies on an algorithm the department has called discriminatory.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook Inc., also has been ordered to develop a new system to address racial and other disparities caused by the use of the previous algorithm system, according to the settlement agreement.

The company will also provide a review of the agreement and any noteworthy information necessary to verify compliance with those standards, adding that the court has the authority to resolve the disputes over the information the company disclosed in the settlement agreement.

The settlement comes after the Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a lawsuit against Meta in 2018 alleging that the platform’s housing advertising system discriminates against users’ race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status and nationality.

The lawsuit also alleged that Meta used algorithms to determine which users received housing ads, which led to other users being excluded from receiving housing ads. This action violated the Fair Housing Act, the lawsuit said.

“As technology rapidly evolves, companies like Meta have a responsibility to ensure their algorithmic tools are not used in a discriminatory manner,” Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

“This settlement is historic, marking the first time that Meta has agreed to terminate one of its algorithmic targeting tools and modify its delivery algorithms for housing ads in response to a civil rights lawsuit. The Justice Department is committed to holding Meta and other technology companies accountable when they abuse algorithms in ways that unlawfully harm marginalized communities,” she said.

In its own statement, Meta said it plans to introduce new methods to combat the issue, adding that its new housing ads will focus on key demographics such as age, gender, and race and ethnicity.

“We know that our progress — both in ads fairness and broader civil rights initiatives — will be determined not just by our commitment to this work, but by concrete changes we make in our products,” Meta said in a statement. “We look forward to not only building solutions, but participating in and supporting the critical, industry-wide conversations that lie ahead.”

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