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Facebook Moves to Curtail Discrimination through Ethnic Affinities Targeting

But questions remain

Hi, my name is Andy Taylor and you’re watching another Merkle Insight video. Today I’d like to talk about Facebook’s recent move to restrict advertisers from marketing housing, employment, and credit opportunities using ethnic affinities.

Now, ethnic affinities capabilities have been around for a couple of years and while they don’t actually target users who are definitively a part of a particular ethnicity, they take a user’s interests and habits into account in deciding which users have an affinity or might be connected to an ethnicity.

And so recently Facebook has come under a bit of fire for this because advertisers could theoretically target housing, credit, and employment opportunities based on a particular ethnicity and also turn it off to other users who are of a different ethnicity. So this is a pretty good move on Facebook’s part in terms of curtailing discrimination in these areas, however an important thing to understand is that this isn’t the only way that discriminatory practices can be perpetrated on Facebook or on other digital marketing platforms.

I think an easy way to understand this is thinking about something like geographic targeting. Now the geography of a user tells us a lot of different things about that person. It tells us what the average household income of the area the user is in might be. It also tells us things like weather patterns as well as proximity to brick and mortar stores, and these are all factors that advertisers like to take into account in deciding what kinds of advertising to show a particular user as well as deciding which users they actually want to target. So one thing that geography can also tell us is what the probability of a user being a part of a particular ethnicity is.

So even though advertisers are no longer allowed to use ethnic affinity targeting in these industries, discrimination can still happen using targeting methods such as geography.

So just like offline, in online advertising it’s very difficult to completely stomp out discrimination, and that’s going to be a debate that happens over the next few years in terms of whether or not the advertising industry itself can fully police itself or whether or not there will be further government regulations.

That’s it for today, but thanks for joining and if you’d like to hear anything for about Facebook or other digital marketing opportunities please stay tuned to the Merkle Blog and other Merkle Insight videos as we’ll certainly have more content for you to check out. Thanks everybody.