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Targeted Ads, or Targeted Discrimination?

As we have seen in class, online marketing nowadays is based on making impressions. Ads online are focused on getting your interests so that you will click on them. Thereby advertisers are paying “per click.” But how do advertisers make sure they’ll leave the strongest impression? Well, in that case, the internet serves as a useful tool, companies can track which websites you go to, what zip code you are in, and can even approximate your income level. While the amount of data available to advertisers may help their targeted approach towards marketing, it can also have its back draws for the people seeing the ads.

Anna María Farías, the HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, highlighted the potential side effects by claiming that “When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it’s the same as slamming the door in someone’s face.” Farias’ statements came out after the secretary for the HUD, Ben Carson, filed a complaint accusing the tech giant of giving advertisers the tools to exclude users based on race, gender, zip code, or personal disabilities.  People’s likes and interests such as “Disabled Parking Permit” or “English as a Second Language” were taken into account by advertisers when deciding who should and should not view their ads.

However, this has not been the first-time complaints have been filed against Facebook, earlier this year the National Fair Housing Alliance filed a lawsuit against the company, under the same allegations.  Facebook claims that under the Communications Decency Act they only act as an interactive computer service, thereby giving them immunity, as the Act protects online services from laws that would hold them responsible for what others say and do. However, according to the U.S attorney for the Southern District of New York, Facebook acts as an “Internet content provider” under because it collects and analyzes data and offers user categories that advertisers can choose, ‘based on demographics, interests, behaviors and other criteria.’”

In today’s data-driven world, companies want to receive a higher return on ad spend, and they do so by focusing on the most relevant and likely audiences.  But in doing so, can targeted advertising lead to targeted discrimination? While receiving more clicks for an ad is the bottom line, advertisers must be more careful whether their end goal comes at the expense of leaving others out.



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October 2018