Lawsuit accuses Facebook ad targeting of abetting bias

In this file photo taken on October 23, 2019 A giant digital sign is seen at Facebook's corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California. (AFP / Josh Edelson)
Updated 01 November 2019

Lawsuit accuses Facebook ad targeting of abetting bias

  • Suit contends that Facebook tools allow messages to be targeted at specific age ranges or genders
  • As a result, women and older people were denied the benefits of ads for financial services, it adds

SAN FRANCISCO: A lawsuit filed on Thursday accuses Facebook of letting ad targeting tools be used to exclude women and older people from offers regarding loans, investments and other financial services.
Two law firms have filed a discrimination suit in San Francisco federal court on behalf of a 54-year-old woman living in Washington and will ask a judge to grant the case class-action status.
“Women and older persons are entitled to full and equal services of businesses such as Facebook, and the financial services companies that advertise on Facebook’s platform,” attorney Matthew Handley said in a statement.
“Purposeful targeting of advertisements away from these members of our community unlawfully denies them these guarantees.”
The suit contends that women and older people were denied the benefits of ads for financial services because Facebook tools allow messages to be targeted at specific age ranges or genders.
Facebook said it is reviewing the complaint.
“We’ve made significant changes to how housing, employment and credit opportunities are run on Facebook and continue to work on ways to prevent potential misuse,” a spokeswoman for the leading social network told AFP.
“Our policies have long prohibited discrimination and we’re proud of the strides we’re making in this area.”
Facebook announced earlier this year that it was revamping how it uses targeted advertising in a settlement with activist groups alleging it discriminated in messages on jobs, housing, credit and other services.
Under those changes, housing, employment or credit ads would no longer be allowed to target by age, gender or zip code — a practice critics argued had led to discrimination.
In the settlement, Facebook agreed to take “far-reaching measures to stop advertisers from using age, gender, and other protected traits to target job, housing, and credit ads,” according to the law firms involved in the new suit.
“Today’s lawsuit alleges that Facebook has not taken any action to stop advertisers from excluding older persons and women from getting financial services ads on Facebook, other than in the limited area of credit ads,” the law firms said.


Twitter plans to build ‘decentralized standard’ for social networks

Updated 12 December 2019

Twitter plans to build ‘decentralized standard’ for social networks

  • The system, or “standard,” would not be owned by any single private company, says Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
  • He said Twitter will fund the project, which will take many years to complete, but will not direct it

Twitter Inc. plans to set up an independent research group to create an “open and decentralized” system for social networks, CEO Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday, which could relieve pressure on the company to appease critics of its content policies but also give rise to a new crop of competitors.
The system, or “standard,” would not be owned by any single private company, Dorsey said, and would enable individuals to use a variety of services to access the same network, just like they choose different email providers to see the same messages.
Policing speech on social media sites has required hefty investments while still failing to stem criticism from users who find the policies either too aggressive or too lax.
“Centralized enforcement of global policy to address abuse and misleading information is unlikely to scale over the long-term without placing far too much burden on people,” Dorsey tweeted.
He said the new approach would also allow Twitter to “focus our efforts on building open recommendation algorithms which promote healthy conversation, and will force us to be far more innovative than in the past.”

The idea, as outlined in articles Dorsey shared, is that developers could use their own algorithms to offer like-minded individuals targeted access to the same social media networks.
For instance, an individual could sign up with a provider that would aggressively filter out racist material, or another that would promote conversations over other types of content.
The open standard, however, could upend Twitter’s business model in the process, giving rise to competitor services that offer filters, content suggestions or other tools that prove more popular with consumers.
In an article that Dorsey shared called “Protocols, Not Platforms,” tech news site Techdirt founder Mike Masnick outlined how an open standard could give rise to a “competition for business models” among developers.
Some providers might collect less user data for ads, while others might abandon advertising altogether, instead charging users for access to premium services like filters or data storage, Masnick wrote.
Dorsey said Twitter’s chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal, will be in charge of hiring a lead for the research team, called BlueSky. Twitter will fund the project, which will take many years to complete, but will not direct it, he said.
He went on to suggest that blockchain technology might provide a model for decentralizing content hosting, oversight and even monetization of social media, without elaborating on possible alternatives to Twitter’s ads-driven business.