Facebook online advertising targeting is inherently discriminatory.
Facebook online job advertisements exclude women alleges court case
In September a group of people filed charges against Facebook and other companies for discriminating against women. They claim that certain job advertisements exclusively target men and thereby exclude women from possible lucrative job opportunities.
Several studies show that the targeted Facebook online advertising business model is inherently prejudiced. The New York Times found that dozens of job advertisers used the Facebook platform to target specific age groups. The Washington State attorney’s office also proved how easy it is to use Facebook’s targeting tools to prevent specific minorities from seeing certain ads. If those ads were for online casino products, you could consider yourself lucky. If those ads were for a scholarship to a prestigious university, you might feel outraged. If it was a political ad sowing division and racial hatred, you should feel a little afraid.
Artificial Intelligence can be discriminatory
Apart from where the advertiser specifically uses geographic, age or other sex indicators, Facebook and Google also use Artificial Intelligence to target users on the ‘relevance’ of the ad to the target audience. They base this on all the data they have collected about their targets. They are, however, not transparent about how they do this. It has been shown that where the collected data is skewed and has not been sanitized from prejudice, the learnt behaviour of the AI targeting machine will also be prejudiced.
This means that even if the intent of the advertiser was not to be sexist, it could still turn out to be that way. The algorithm could find that the ad could perform better by targeting an audience in this way and proceed on this basis. A Facebook advertiser can also define a ‘lookalike’ audience which will be used to identify similar users across its platform. Advertisers can game this setting to target pseudo-race identifiers for their audience.
“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said. “We look forward to defending our practices once we have an opportunity to review the complaint.”
Facebook online advertising is inherently sexist!
It cab also be ageist, racist, homophobic, pacifist, or even humanist. It can be EVERY ‘-ist’ a machine can learn from its available data if it will improve its advertisements performance. Facebook online advertising targeting is designed to discriminate based on a legion of factors to get the best ad performance. Facebook might have removed some race identifiers as a specific targeting options and called it ‘against policy’, but if the data teaches machines to do it, or allow other pseudo race identifiers to be used to target an audience, discrimination will continue. It is troubling that an advertiser can target gender and race. Unfortunately these systems are inherently designed to do exactly that.
Journalist David “Doc” Searls, has written extensively on the problems of online advertising calls Facebook “a machine built for targeting”. “Facebook doesn’t so much allow advertisers to discriminate against groups, it is designed to do exactly that.”
Force large tech firms to be more transparent
Hopefully the legal action will start to put this business model under the microscope. This will force the large online advertising conglomerates to disclose their businesses practices and make it possible for advertisers to choose to be moral. It must also make it possible to act against unlawful behaviour by disclosing all required data to identify the offenders.