Facebook and the ACLU issued a joint statement this morning, noting that they have settled a class action job discrimination suit. The ACLU filed the suit in September, along with Outten & Golden LLP and the Communications Workers of America, alleging that Facebook allowed employers to target ads based on categories like race, national origin, age and gender.
The initial charges were filed on behalf of female workers who alleged they were not served up employment opportunities based on gender. Obviously all of that’s against all sort of federal, state and local laws, including, notably, section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Today’s announcement finds Facebook implementing “sweeping changes” to its advertising platform in order to address these substantial concerns. The company outlined a laundry list of “far-reaching changes and steps,” including the development of a separate ad portal to handle topics like housing, employment and credit (HEC) for Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.
Targeting based on gender, age and race will not be allowed within the confines of the new system. Ditto for the company’s Lookalike Audience tool, which is similarly designed to target customers based on things like gender, age, religious views and the like.
“Civil rights leaders and experts – including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Laura Murphy, the highly respected civil rights leader who is overseeing the Facebook civil rights audit – have also raised valid concerns about this issue,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post tied to the announcement. “We take their concerns seriously and, as part of our civil rights audit, engaged the noted civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax to review our ads tools and help us understand what more we could do to guard against misuse.”
In addition to the above portal, Facebook will be creating a one-stop site where users can search among all job listings, independent of how ads are served. The company has also promised to offer “educational materials to advertisers about these new anti-discrimination measures. Facebook will also be meeting regularly with the suit’s plaintiffs to assure that it is continuing to meet all of the parameters of the settlement.
“As the internet — and platforms like Facebook — play an increasing role in connecting us all to information related to economic opportunities, it’s crucial that micro-targeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination,” ACLU senior staff attorney Galen Sherwin said in the joint statement. “We are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”
Further details of the settlement haven’t been disclosed by either party, but the update is clearly a bit of a consolatory move from a company that’s landed itself on the wrong side of a large lawsuit. Even so, it ought to be regarded as a positive outcome for a problematic product offering.