Facebook to make jobs, credit ads searchable

BOSTON (AP) – Facebook said it will make advertisements for jobs, loans and credit card offers searchable for all United States (US) users following a legal settlement designed to eliminate discrimination on its platform.

The plan disclosed in an internal report last Sunday voluntarily expands on a commitment the social medial giant made in March when it agreed to make its US housing ads searchable by location and advertiser.

Ads were only delivered selectively to Facebook users based on such data as what they earn, their education level and where they shop.

The audit’s leader, former American Civil Liberties Union Executive Laura Murphy, was hired by Facebook in May 2018 to assess its performance on vital social issues.

Murphy has consulted with dozens of civil rights groups on the subject as part of her year-long audit, assisted by lawyers from the firm Relman, Dane & Colfax. Last Sunday’s 26-page report, which also deals with content moderation and enforcement and efforts to prevent meddling in the 2020 US elections and census, was her second update.

The searchable housing ads database will roll out by the end of 2019, Facebook said, and Murphy said she expects the employment and financial product offerings databases to be available within the next year.

Murphy said she believes the move will positively impact the social mobility of millions in the United States “so I’m very excited about that.”

Targetted ads tailored to individuals are Facebook’s bread and butter – accounting for all but a sliver of its more than USD50 billion in annual revenues last year. It’s unlikely that making the ads searchable would have a significant effect on Facebook’s business.

Analysts have cautioned, however, that any restrictions on Facebook’s ability to target ads could scare off advertisers.

The move is likely part of Facebook’s strategy to show regulators that is doing a good job policing its own service – putting it in compliance with existing anti-discrimination law – and doesn’t need a heavy-handed approach from lawmakers. It comes as the company is facing increasing regulatory pressures.

As part of the settlement with plaintiffs including the ACLU and the National Fair Housing Alliance, Facebook agreed in March to stop targetting people based on age, gender and zip code and to also eliminate such categories as national origin and sexual orientation.

The groups had sued claiming Facebook violated anti-discrimination laws by preventing audiences including single mothers and the disabled from seeing many housing ads – while some job ads were not reaching women and older workers.

Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU and the group’s lead attorney in the case Galen Sherwin said making the three Facebook databases searchable by anyone “definitely creates greater access to information about economic opportunities”.