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A timeline of Facebook’s responses to allegations of discriminatory advertising

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Facebook agreed to bar housing, employment and credit ads that target audiences based on gender and age, as part of a settlement with several advocacy groups in the U.S. However, those changes will not apply in Canada or other countries, The Logic has learned. For more than two years Facebook has faced public criticism and legal challenges over alleged discrimination in its advertising practices. A timeline of the controversy is outlined below.

November 11, 2016

Facebook announces it will disable the use of ethnic-affinity marketing for ads that it identified as offering housing, employment or credit. While not referenced in the announcement, the company’s change came shortly after a ProPublica investigation revealed that Facebook gave advertisers the option to hide housing and employment ads from people interested in specific demographics.

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February 8, 2017

The company updates its advertising policy to include that advertisers may not discriminate against people based on personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, medical or genetic condition. In the same update, Facebook said that it would begin using machine learning to help identify ads that offer housing, employment or credit opportunities.

March 27, 2018

The U.S. National Fair Housing Alliance filed a lawsuit in New York alleging that Facebook was still allowing housing advertisers to discriminate against legally-protected groups, including mothers, Spanish-language speakers and people with disabilities. The group asked the court to require Facebook to develop a fair housing policy for advertisers.

June 20, 2018

The Logic published a story showing that Facebook users advertising housing and jobs could exclude some Indigenous groups. Hours after being contacted by The Logic, the company said it had disabled advertisers in Canada from screening out housing and employment applicants with interests in “Indigenous peoples,” [sic] “metis,” [sic] “Anishinaabe” and “Cree.”

August 13, 2018

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) files a complaint against Facebook under the Fair Housing Act, charging that the social network allows advertisers to illegally discriminate in housing ads by excluding some groups from seeing them and “invites advertisers to express unlawful preference by suggesting discriminatory options.”

September 18, 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) files charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and 10 other employers for unlawfully discriminating on the basis of gender by targeting their job ads on Facebook to male Facebook users only, excluding women and non-binary users from receiving the ads.

March 19. 2019

The ACLU reaches a settlement with Facebook over advertising practices that allegedly discriminated against minorities. As part of five settlements totalling nearly $5 million, Facebook agreed to make major changes to its ad platform to curb discrimination against certain people when it comes to employment, housing and credit ads.

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March 28, 2019

The HUD files charges against Facebook alleging the company allowed advertisers to use its targeted advertising tools to restrict minorities and other protected groups from viewing real estate ads.

March 30, 2019

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg writes an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for internet regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.