Facebook’s ad algorithm discriminates by race, gender – study

MANILA, Philippines - An academic study conducted by researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Southern California, and nonprofit organization Upturn found that Facebook’s ad algorithm discriminates by race and gender, even if it’s not told do so.

The researchers spent $8,500 to run job and real-estate ad campaigns on the platform. They set the targeting parameters for these ads to be “highly inclusive” so they can reach a broad audience.

Despite their efforts, Facebook still seemed discriminatory in who it chose to serve the ads to, the researchers said 

For instance, the researchers posted ads for North Carolina houses that were either for sale and for rent. They found that the ads for houses that were for sale were delivered to an audience made up of 75% white users. Ads for houses that were for rent, meanwhile, were served to a more diverse group.

They also found that real estate ads with a photo of a white family was shown to more white users at 85% than an identical ad with black family at 73%, even though they were targeted identically.

With regards to gender, ads for lumber industry jobs were delivered to a 90% male audience while ads for supermarket cashier jobs were served to an 85% female audience.

Facebook typically serves ads to audiences it believes would most likely be interested to click it based on information from their profile and previous behavior on the platform, as explained by The Verge. How much money the campaign uses may also be a factor in its reach as Facebook reportedly puts ads in a bidding process.

However, it’s still unclear to the researchers how Facebook factors all of this in its decisions.

The study backs up the allegations made by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development  that claim Facebook excludes users from marginalized classes in America’s population from seeing some real-estate ads.

The Department later filed charges against Facebook for housing discrimination.

When asked to comment, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said, “We stand against discrimination in any form. We’ve announced important changes to our ad targeting tools and know that this is only a first step. We’ve been looking at our ad delivery system and have engaged industry leaders, academics, and civil rights experts on this very topic — and we’re exploring more changes.” – Rappler.com