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The Algorithm Made Me Do It

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June 29, 2022

Six years ago an investigative report revealed that Facebook let housing marketers exclude African Americans and others from seeing some of their advertisements, a violation of federal law. The DOJ filed a complaint and the wheel of justice began its slow grind. On June 20, Facebook, now Meta, agreed to overhaul its ad algorithm system. The DOJ alleged that Meta targeted users with housing ads based on algorithms that relied partly on characteristics protected under the Fair Housing Act — race, national origin, sex — and that Meta’s special ad audience tool allowed advertisers to target users based on protected traits. The settlement requires court approval. In a statement by Roy L. Austin Jr., Meta’s vice president of civil rights and deputy general counsel, Meta says that it will implement 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.”

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