Meta Settles With US Department of Justice Over Discriminatory Advertising Allegations

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
June 21, 2022 Updated: June 21, 2022

Facebook’s parent company Meta and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have agreed to a settlement over allegations the company engaged in discriminatory advertising.

Facebook discriminated by offering advertisers an algorithm that enabled advertisers to target ads to users based on their looks, sex, religion, and interests, according to a federal lawsuit.

That violated the Fair Housing Act when it was used by advertisements for housing, according to the DOJ.

Under the proposed settlement (pdf), announced on June 21, Meta will stop using the advertising tool that relies on the algorithm and develop a replacement tool.

The new tool must “address disparities for race, ethnicity and sex between advertisers’ targeted audiences and the group of Facebook users to whom Facebook’s personalization algorithms actually deliver the ads,” the DOJ said in a statement.

If the U.S. government clears the replacement, it must be fully implemented by Dec. 31.

Meta has also agreed to pay $115,054, the maximum penalty that can be assessed under the housing act.

“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,” Kristen Clark, an assistant attorney general, said in a statement.

“Because of this ground-breaking lawsuit, Meta will—for the first time—change its ad delivery system to address algorithmic discrimination. But if Meta fails to demonstrate that it has sufficiently changed its delivery system to guard against algorithmic bias, this office will proceed with the litigation,” added Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The settlement must be approved by a court to take effect.

Meta officials said the settlement came after more than a year of working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development “to develop a novel use of machine learning technology that will work to ensure the age, gender and estimated race or ethnicity of a housing ad’s overall audience matches the age, gender, and estimated race or ethnicity mix of the population eligible to see that ad.”

The company said the change was being made in part to address criticism from civil rights groups and other outside parties.

“Discrimination in housing, employment and credit is a deep-rooted problem with a long history in the US, and we are committed to broadening opportunities for marginalized communities in these spaces and others,” Roy Austin, vice president of civil rights at Meta, said in a statement.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.