Back in November, Facebook sought to address the growing concerns that their hyper-targeted ad products could be used in a discriminatory way:
"Policymakers and civil rights leaders have expressed concerns that advertisers could misuse some aspects of our affinity marketing segments. Specifically, they've raised the possibility that some advertisers might use these segments to run ads that discriminate against people, particularly in areas where certain groups have historically faced discrimination - housing, employment and the extension of credit."
The issue was raised in response to an article published by ProPublica which showed that advertisers could create Facebook ads which excluded people based on race, gender and other sensitive factors - restrictions which are prohibited by federal law in housing and employment.
Facebook took immediate action, disabling the use of ethnic affinity marketing for certain ads and updating their advertising policies to make them more explicit in regards to discriminatory advertising approaches.
And this week, Facebook has announced their latest moves to eliminate such behavior, with newly updated policies and the addition of new enforcement tools to detect and remove such actions.
First off, Facebook has again updated their ad policies to further underline their stance against discrimination in ad targeting.
"We make it clear 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."
Facebook's also added new resource links within their policy documentation which provide additional reference material from government agencies and civil rights groups that specialize in combating discrimination.
In addition to this, Facebook's also turning to algorithms to identify potential violations of their revised policies.
"We're beginning to test new technology that leverages machine learning to help us identify ads that offer housing, employment or credit opportunities - the types of advertising stakeholders told us they were concerned about. This will allow us to more quickly provide notices and educational information to advertisers - and more quickly respond to violations of our policy."
It's no surprise that Facebook's turning to AI and machine learning for this purpose, the platform is increasingly relying on algorithms to detect various user behaviors - both positive and negative. Indeed, Facebook is now heavily reliant on machine learning systems to detect and eliminate objectionable material - as reported by Ars Technica:
"In the past, users tagged these images as objectionable, and that info was funneled to the Protect and Care team. Images confirmed objectionable were deleted by a team member. Then machine learning models were built to identify and delete these images. In 2015, the ML models examined and eliminated more of these images than people did. Now, the Protect and Care group independently creates new classifiers to identify new types of objectionable material and retrain the models to automatically respond to it."
As those systems get more advanced, their potential applications expand, and you can expect Facebook will continue to use such tools in similar capacity in future.
Facebook's also moving to add a warning and review system for potential violators
"When an advertiser attempts to show an ad that we identify as offering a housing, employment or credit opportunity and either includes or excludes our multicultural advertising segments - which consist of people interested in seeing content related to the African American, Asian American and US Hispanic communities - we will disapprove the ad."
They're also adding a self-certification process to ensure they're complying with applicable anti-discrimination laws.
Facebook says they've been working with policymakers and civil rights leaders on the changes, and with additional public and private sector organizations to ensure that they maintain the ability to reach specific groups with information about products, services, and causes that they might find relevant, while also protecting against discriminatory uses.
The impact of these changes should be fairly limited, and fairly obvious to the applicable advertisers.
The new changes are now live for all Facebook advertisers.