Facebook Parent Meta introduces changes in ad technology to prevent discrimination

Facebook parent Meta said Monday it introduced changes aimed at addressing concerns that the system the company uses to serve ads could be potentially biased.

Meta’s ad technology update comes after the social media giant settled a lawsuit with the US Department of Justice in 2022 over allegations that the company allowed landlords and home sellers to post discriminatory housing ads. As part of the settlement, Meta agreed to stop using a listing tool and develop a new system to address this issue.

Meta has rules against discriminatory advertising, but the company has faced complaints that advertisers may be abusing Facebook advertising tools to exclude people from housing, employment opportunities, or even financial services. Facebook allows advertisers to target ads to people based on the interests, demographics, and behavior of social network users. It then uses what is called an “ad auction” to determine which ad to show a user at any given time.

Meta made changes e.g. B. Restricting which features certain advertisers can use to reach potential customers.

“But even without these kinds of targeting options, factors like people’s interests or activities on a service could affect the distribution of ads to different demographics,” said Miranda Bogen, Meta’s policy manager for Responsible AI, in a blog post.

Meta said the update, known as the Variance Reduction System, is “intended to help ensure that the audience that ends up seeing a home, job or loan ad better reflects the appropriate audience for that ad.” The company said it will compare the target audience of a given ad to characteristics, such as age and estimated race or ethnicity, that advertisers choose to target them. The social network said it uses aggregated data for privacy reasons.

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Facebook is applying this new system to housing ads in the US and plans to expand the VRS to job and loan ads over the next year.

The Justice Department said Meta will be subject to judicial oversight for its ads system for the first time, and Guidehouse will assess whether the change meets certain metrics.

“Meta’s federal oversight should send a strong signal to other tech companies that they, too, should be held accountable for not addressing algorithmic discrimination that violates our civil rights laws,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department, said in one Explanation.