Facebook will now remove ad targeting via age, gender and zip code for housing, employment, and credit card ads (HEC ads) as part of its settlement with American civil rights groups. ‘Multicultural affinity’ targeting and any other targeting option relating to protected groups will be removed. Facebook’s settlement was reached with civil liberty groups National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and others which had sued Facebook last year for allowing exclusion of users by race, disability, and other categories. It is illegal under US federal law for housing, job and credit advertisers to discriminate against protected groups.

The specific requirements in the settlement (find a copy at the bottom) are:

  • Facebook will create a separate advertising platform for housing, employment, and credit ads for Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger that will have limited targeting options
  • The organisation will not have any targeting options relating to personal characteristics or protected groups, which include targeting options related to race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, family status, disability, and sexual orientation
  • Advertisers cannot target users in a geographic area smaller than a 15-mile radius
  • Facebook’s “Lookalike Audience” tool can no longer consider gender, age, religious views, zip codes, Facebook Group membership to target such ads
  • If advertisers create ads independent/outside of the HEC ads portal, Facebook will block and re-route the advertiser via the portal
  • Facebook will build a searchable ads library for all active HEC ads in the US.


Apart from civil liberty groups, the US Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and civil rights leader Laura Murphy, had raised concerns regarding exclusion via ad targeting.

Housing, employment and credit ads are crucial to helping people buy new homes, start great careers, and gain access to credit. They should never be used to exclude or harm people.
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg on the settlement

Facebook has previously said that it was being held to an unreasonably high standard, and that ads excluding users by age and gender were not discriminatory. “We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory,” Vice President of Ads Rob Goldman wrote in a December 2017. “Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work.”

Justice department’s complaint on housing ads discrimination

Facebook’s ads targeting policy and its resulting exclusion had made it to US Housing and Urban Development which filed a complaint against Facebook last year, accusing the company of housing discrimination and violation of the federal fair housing laws. The complaint was based on Facebook’s targeted ad tools such as “Boosts” and “Ad Manager”, which it said, has allowed discrimination by providing property owners and dealers with a mechanism to include some and exclude users.

“Platform, not publisher”: At the time, Facebook had said the its merely a a distribution platform, and not a publisher, and thus enjoys legal safe harbour protection. The Justice Department, however, had argued that Facebook is an “information content provider”, which means that it acts like a publisher to a certain extent. According to the US government, Facebook has contributed enough via its targeted ad tools for it to qualify as information content provider; it has developed and curated the content at hand, and not merely hosted it, hence making it liable.

Facebook’s settlement with ACLU, NFHA, CWA and others: