Facebook Rolling Back Ethnic and Racial Exclusion in Targeted Advertising



Facebook have come under fire from many angles for their targeted advertising, but no volley was more damaging than the one concerning race. Yes, that's a thing. For the past few years, Facebook have been offering demographic 'packages' to advertisers, so that they can cater to particular 'cultural interests'.

This came to a head at SXSW last year, when Universal revealed that they had produced two different trailers for the NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton, one for white people and one for black and Latino people. As if that didn't sound bad enough by itself, the latter ad focused heavily on the history of the group and the musical aspect, while the former concentrated on the gang violence. In sum, they marketed a movie about hip-hop to black people and a movie about black people shooting each other to white people. Yikes.

Even before that happened people had called Facebook to remove the feature, but they've never complied until now. They're not completely ditching it, rather, they're introducing a tool which stops advertisers from segmented their targeting by race. At the moment, this tool only works on certain types of ads, those being housing, employment, or credit-related ads. Everything else is fair game.

Why those in particular? Well there's nothing directly wrong with marketing to a particular racial group, or 'ethnic affinity' demographic, as Facebook terms it, but it's a very easy thing to abuse, and that goes doubly so if you start marketing things like housing, jobs or a 401k directly to, say, Asian people.

It's a minor solution to a far wider issue, and some would argue that Facebook would be better off getting rid of the whole thing, but they're not going to do that for anything less than a massive, whale-sized controversy and there hasn't been one yet. It makes you wonder just how much of this kind of profiling happens behind the scenes, but given current events, Facebook might be rethinking their whole targeted content approach for reasons far more sinister than merely offending people.

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