Bulletins

Meta will change its ad algorithms as part of a major DOJ settlement

The settlement comes after the Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Meta for allegedly enabling housing discrimination in both its ad targeting and ad delivery systems.

Meta logo

Meta is also paying a $115,054 fine.

Photo: Meta

Meta has agreed to settle a long-standing lawsuit filed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging discrimination in Facebook's housing ad system. As part of the settlement, Meta vowed to change the way ads for housing, as well as employment and credit opportunities, are delivered on its platforms, and to pay a $115,054 fine.

"Discrimination in housing, employment and credit is a deep-rooted problem with a long history in the US, and we are committed to broadening opportunities for marginalized communities in these spaces and others," Roy Austin Jr., Meta's vice president of civil rights, wrote in a blog post.


The case, which was originally brought under then-HUD secretary Ben Carson in 2018, accused Facebook of allowing advertisers to discriminate on the basis of race and other protected characteristics when they were targeting housing ads. It also accused Facebook itself of discriminating through the actual delivery ads. Research has found that even when housing and employment ads are targeted in a neutral way, Facebook's algorithms can wind up skewing which demographics actually get to see the ads.

As part of the settlement, Meta is committing to institute what it's calling a “variance reduction system” to ensure that the intended target of an ad and the actual audience to which an ad is delivered align. "Today’s announcement reflects more than a year of collaboration with HUD to develop a novel use of machine learning technology that will work to ensure 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," Austin wrote in his statement.

Meta is also agreeing to do away with functionality called Special Ad Audiences that allows advertisers to target lookalike audiences of users for housing, employment and credit related ads. The company has previously removed certain ad targeting categories from housing, employment and credit related ads and added them to its public ad archive.

“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," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

Austin himself is a veteran of the DOJ's civil rights division. He joined Meta last year after a damning civil rights audit called Facebook out for everything from its failure to police former President Trump's posts to its history of enabling housing discrimination through ads.

Under Austin's leadership, Meta is undertaking a novel study that will analyze its impact on users of different races. "Are Black users treated differently than other users? Being able to measure that and be very transparent and forthright about the fact we are measuring that was incredibly important to me,” Austin told Protocol earlier this year. The techniques Meta has created to analyze users' races as part of that work will be crucial to the company's ability to vet the existence, or lack thereof, of discrimination in its ads.

Meta now has until the end of the year to implement the changes, at which point the Department of Justice will have an opportunity to approve the changes. "If Meta fails to demonstrate that it has sufficiently changed its delivery system to guard against algorithmic bias, this office will proceed with the litigation,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.

Latest Bulletins

Gene Levoff, Apple's former director of Corporate Law, pleaded guilty to insider trading, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less

New York state environmental regulators have declined to extend a key permit to a controversial cryptocurrency mining operation in the state's Finger Lakes region.

Keep Reading Show less

FTX is reportedly close to gobbling up BlockFi for about $25 million, though BlockFi's CEO has dismissed the talk as "market rumors."

Keep Reading Show less

The CFPB said it has terminated a sandbox deal that gave earned wage access provider PayActiv “temporary safe harbor from liability” under key lending regulations.

The CFPB granted PayActiv “special regulatory treatment” in December 2020 to offer “earned wage access” products that would allow employees to obtain wages they already earned before payday.

PayActiv gets paid back through a payroll deduction from the employee’s next paycheck. The company makes money through fees.

The CFPB said it had informed PayActiv early this month that it was “considering terminating the approval order in light of certain public statements the company made wrongly suggesting a CFPB endorsement of its products.”

The company requested that the CFPB end the sandbox order after notifying the agency that it planned to modify its product fee model, the CFPB said.

The move underlined the CFPB’s increasingly critical view of sandbox deals that the agency said “proved to be ineffective.”

Safwan Shah, PayActiv’s founder and CEO, is credited with coining the term "earned wage access," which has been criticized by consumer advocates as being potentially predatory, especially when it comes to workers who don’t make much money.

Shah has argued that it benefits ordinary workers, citing a dieting principle: "The less you are paid, the more frequently you should be paid," he told Protocol in a 2021 interview. "If you're going to eat 500 calories, don't eat them in one sitting. Spread them throughout the day."

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of PayActiv's name. This story was updated June 30, 2022.

Samsung announced Wednesday that it has taken a significant step toward rolling out a next-generation manufacturing technology that has the potential to reshuffle the chip industry.

Keep Reading Show less

Amazon has censored search results related to LGBTQ+ products in the United Arab Emirates after being pressured by the government.

Keep Reading Show less

Grayscale is suing the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after the regulator denied the company's bid to convert its bitcoin trust into an exchange-traded fund.

Keep Reading Show less

App developers in South Korea can now use third-party payment systems, Apple announced in a blog post Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less

An employee working for OpenSea's email delivery vendor misused their customer data access to download and share email addresses with an "unauthorized external party," the NFT marketplace wrote in a company blog post Wednesday. The employee worked for Customer.io.

Keep Reading Show less

Javier Soltero is leaving Google Workspace, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian announced Wednesday in an email to staff viewed by Protocol. Soltero will leave his role effective July 15.

Keep Reading Show less

San Francisco-based game development tools provider Unity is laying off hundreds of employees, according to a report from Kotaku.

Keep Reading Show less

Niantic is reportedly cutting between 85 and 90 staff members, or 8% of its workforce.

Keep Reading Show less

Crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital has reportedly received a court order to liquidate after creditors sued the company over unpaid debts.

Keep Reading Show less

Just months after committing to spend $925 million on carbon dioxide removal, a collection of major tech companies has announced its first purchases. The group, operating under the banner of Frontier, announced it had purchased nearly 2,000 tons of CDR services from five companies. It's a small ripple in the CDR pond, but one Frontier hopes will turn into a wave to bring down the costs of removing carbon.

Keep Reading Show less

The Federal Trade Commission has sued Walmart, alleging the retail giant "turned a blind eye" to fraud worth hundreds of millions on its money transfer services.

Keep Reading Show less

Eric Schmidt described his first five years at Google as "pure, naive techno-optimism," in that the company believed that applying American values like free speech is good for the world. But Google hit a brick wall when it bought YouTube.

Keep Reading Show less

The Biden administration's hot electric vehicle summer continues to zip along. On Tuesday, the White House announced $700 million in commitments for EV charging from private companies. The cash will up U.S. charging manufacturing capacity to 250,000 chargers a year and increase the number of chargers out in the wild. Not too bad!

Keep Reading Show less

Meta said it's working to correct enforcement errors that led to the removal of Facebook posts related to abortion pills and suspensions of user accounts behind the posts. The clarification came after Motherboard discovered that Facebook was instantly removing posts that said "abortion pills can be mailed," which the FDA legalized in 2021.

"Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed," Meta spokesperson Andy Stone tweeted in response to the story. "We've discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these."

Keep Reading Show less

Option Impact, a benchmark compensation product from Advanced-HR, has a new owner.

Keep Reading Show less

FTX is reportedly exploring the possibility of buying Robinhood. The crypto exchange led by CEO Sam Bankman-Fried is looking into whether it could acquire the online brokerage, according to a Bloomberg report that cited unnamed sources.

Keep Reading Show less

Backstage Capital, which invests in underrepresented founders, has cut all of its operational staff after it ran into fundraising challenges, according to founder Arlan Hamilton.

Keep Reading Show less

Crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital has defaulted on a loan of cryptocurrencies worth $666 million from Voyager Digital, the broker said Monday.

Keep Reading Show less

Goldman Sachs has joined efforts to assist the ailing crypto lending company Celsius, in what would be the biggest effort yet by a traditional financial institution to jump in amid a broad crypto crash. Several large crypto hedge funds, lending companies and brokerages have sought funding or credit amid a liquidity crunch in recent days.

Keep Reading Show less

Los Angeles could become the first major city in the country to ban the construction of new gas stations because of the climate crisis.

Keep Reading Show less

Six of Sony's internal game development studios have issued public messages of support for abortion rights and condemnations of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade on Friday. It's a notable shift for PlayStation, after Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan told staff in May to "respect differences of opinion" on reproductive rights following POLITICO's disclosure of details from a leaked draft opinion in early May.

Keep Reading Show less
Bulletins