Meta promises it will build a new ad-targeting algorithm that doesn't discriminate against people

Business Insider US
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Getty Images
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Getty Images
  • Meta reached a settlement with the DOJ promising to build a new ad-targeting system.
  • The DOJ accused Meta of letting advertisers discriminate against people based on race, sex, and more.
  • Meta has until December 31 to replace its current system with a new, non-discriminatory one.
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Meta has promised in a settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to rebuild its ad-targeting systems by the end of the year so that they don't discriminate against people.

The DOJ announced its settlement with Meta on Tuesday in a press statement. The settlement came in response to a DOJ lawsuit filed that same day, which followed on from a discrimination lawsuit filed against Meta by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2019.

The DOJ in its own lawsuit accused Meta of creating an ad-targeting tool that let advertisers select and exclude Facebook users along the lines of protected characteristics such as race, gender, and religion.

The DOJ said its settlement with Meta gives the company until December 31 to retire its current algorithm and build a new, non-discriminatory one.

"As technology rapidly evolves, companies like Meta have a responsibility to ensure their algorithmic tools are not used in a discriminatory manner," Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of the DOJ, said in a statement.

"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," Clarke added.

A third-party independent reviewer will be selected to verify Meta's algorithm is sufficiently non-discriminatory, the DOJ said.

Meta uses machine-learning algorithms in its ad-targeting tools, which can sometimes replicate human biases.

The DOJ said in its statement if Meta's new tool does not adequately remove the risk of discrimination, it will take legal action against the company.

As part of the settlement Meta also has to pay the DOJ $115,054, the maximum possible fine under the US Fair Housing Act.

Meta said in a statement on Tuesday the settlement was the result of a "year of collaboration" with HUD.

It said it is building a new system that will make sure: "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."

Meta added it plans to implement the same system for employment and credit ads.

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