In late March of this year, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sued Facebook for housing discrimination across the advertising network—a violation of the Fair Housing Act. The claims from HUD were specifically surrounding the platforms algorithms that are leveraged to buy media more intelligently against advertiser’s goals. According to HUD, the algorithm was discriminating against protected classes including but not limited to: race, gender, and family status. As a result of the suit, Facebook has taken immediate action even before reaching a settlement.
In response to the claims and suit brought forward by HUD, Facebook has rolled out changes effective July 1, 2019 for all campaigns that fall within Housing, Employment, and Credit categories. An important distinction is that assessment happens at the campaign level, so even if the brand does not fall within one of the three categories above, the campaign content might. If there is confusion on whether the campaign falls within one of the three categories, we recommend seeking the opinion and support of your Facebook representative.
The policy changes provided by Facebook are listed below:
- Advertisers are required to self-identify any ad campaigns that are related to housing, employment, and credit opportunities. By doing so, Facebook will filter the audience selection tools to those available for ads in these categories.
- Age, gender, and zip code targeting will be unavailable.
- Advertisers will only be able to choose from a much smaller set of targeting options; any detailed targeting segments describing or appearing to relate to protected classes will be unavailable.
- The ability to exclude interests from targeting will be removed.
- While location targeting for an address, city/town or “pin drop” will still be available, advertisers must set a minimum 15-mile radius.
- Advertisers will no longer have access to look-alike audiences. Instead, advertisers will be able to create a special ad audience which doesn’t consider gender, age, zip codes or other similar categories.
- Users will be able to search specifically for these ads within Ads Library for greater transparency.
Ultimately, this move by Facebook to limit targeting options for home, employment, and credit products is not the first nor the last of the types of data usage limitations ad tech companies will deploy. As companies like Google and Facebook feel pressure to strengthen data and privacy usage guidelines, we're likely to see more of these types of policy changes. There is a long history of discrimination in the area of housing, employment, and credit, and Facebook does not want to be a conduit for allowing it to continue. Similarly, given the nature of digital marketing in terms of its precision to target, these platforms are not exempt from regulations that have been in place since the mid 1900’s. We expect that a new level of accountability will be placed on the larger media giants to provide transparency and eliminate the “black box” opaque answers.
What can you do?
Brands should immediately evaluate their current campaign targeting to determine if any of their products could be negatively impacted when the changes go into effect. As noted above, the restrictions will only apply to age, gender, and zip-code targeting, so marketers will still have access to plenty of the rich Facebook data they've come to depend on, including:
- Other demographic data: education, live event, etc.
- Behavior: residential profile, automotive, financial, etc.
- Interest: shopping, technology, business, etc.
Finally, if you aren't already doing so, now would be the time to leverage the most valuable data at your disposal: first party data. In addition to online activity, Facebook still allows advertisers to leverage customer files and offline activity to reach high-value customers. These same data signals can be the seed to create custom audiences for look-alike targeting.
When does it take effect?
The changes went live on July 1, 2019 but enforcement does not begin until August 26, 2019.
July 1: These updates and features will first be available in Ads Manager as an option for advertisers.
August 26: Enforcement begins, and all advertisers based in the US and/or targeting US audiences must use the limited targeting for their housing, employment, and credit ads in Ads Manager.
Q: What happens if I believe an ad is incorrectly disapproved/paused after enforcement begins on August 26th in Ads Manager?
Advertisers can appeal ad policy decisions directly via the in-product flow by clicking on “Request Review.” Additional details on our ad appeal process can be found in the Facebook Help Center.
Q: How will advertisers self-identify?
Advertisers will be asked to indicate whether they are placing an ad offering a housing, employment or credit opportunity before they select an audience for their ad.
Q: If I’m not/my client is not a bank or a real estate company, do these changes impact me?
Potentially, depending on the type of ads the business runs. There are instances where brands outside of the expected HEC industries are promoting content that include job or housing listings or offering credit products. Some examples include – a department store promoting a job opening, an airline offering a credit card, and an automotive company promoting financing options.
Q: How do Custom Audiences fit into this?
Facebook is not making additional restrictions to Custom Audiences at this time. As a reminder, it is already against Facebook’s policies to discriminate. Earlier this year, all advertisers globally were required to attest to Facebook's non-discrimination certification policy.
Q: Will reporting and audience insights still have age/gender breakouts?
Advertisers will continue to be able to leverage aggregate age/gender audience insights.
Q: Is there a way to “opt-out” of this change? What if we sign a waiver of our rights?
No. Any advertiser offering one of these products or services will be required to comply.
Want to learn more? Check out our Facebook Audience Targeting Playbook here.