Most Facebook users at this point realize that the social network uses the personal information they put on the website to send targeted ads to them. Those ads are designed to sell those individuals products that ideally match up with the type of person that they are. The algorithm that comes up with which ads to put in front of which faces is incredibly powerful and complex. However, one of the factors that used to go into the ad-matching program will no longer be a part of the equation according to the BBC.
Facebook says that it has disabled the ethnicity part of the algorithm that it uses to match up people to ads. ProPublica had investigated the use of the ethnicity screening tool as it was being used by advertisers. It turns out that some were using this particular tool for the purposes of posting discriminatory ads against certain types of people. Facebook says that it is working on a work around so that the tool will not be used inappropriately in the future.
Laws in the United States prohibit advertising that is discriminatory. The law is written so that certain groups of people are not excluded from the advertising that is shown to other ethnic groups of people. While doing its investigation, ProPublica discovered that some groups were intentionally avoiding showing their advertisements to members of certain ethnic groups such as those who identified themselves as African-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and Hispanics.
While Facebook does not ask its users directly to list their ethnicity, it can usually be determined by the patterns that the particular individual uses on social media. The kind of things that they like on the website as well as how they interact with the website in general can sometimes give away their ethnicity. Advertisers who were using this information to avoid advertising to any particular group are now being shut down by new policies from Facebook.
Facebook has said that the investigation done by ProPublica highlights a technical failure in the safeguards that it has put up against people using their system to advertise in a discriminatory fashion. They believe that it does nothing more than show them where it is that they need to improve. Facebook still calls for all advertisers to give them their trust that their ads will reach the people that they seek to reach. They are simply making some changes to make sure that discriminatory advertising on the site is a thing of the past