Facebook has made further changes to its ad policies following criticism last year over some of its targeting options. The network’s ethnic targeting came under fire towards the end of 2016 after it was used to exclude people of certain races from seeing housing and employment ads.

Facebook said it would address the issue back in November and now it’s back with a progress update – so let’s take a look at what’s changing.

Facebook addresses legal concerns

Last year, some experts said Facebook’s ethnic targeting options put the company in violation of anti-discrimination laws – most notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Since then, Facebook has met with policymakers and civil rights leaders for input on what needs changing and feedback on its updates.

Facebook’s ad policy now clearly states that adverts “must not contain content that asserts or implies personal attributes”.


“This includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race, ethnic origin, religion, beliefs, age, sexual orientation or practices, gender identity, disability, medical condition (including physical or mental health), financial status, membership in a trade union, criminal record or name.” Facebook


Housing, employment and credit ads are the main three categories under the spotlight right now, although the new policies apply to all Facebook ads. The network also says it’s beginning to test tools that can pinpoint ads in those three specific categories that are using ethnic targeting questionably.


What kind of ads will get disapproved?

From what Facebook is saying publicly, housing, employment and credit ads will be assessed by dedicated tools. What these tools will be looking for is ads that either include or exclude ethnic segments. If a violation is detected, you’ll get a notification to give you the chance to put things right yourself and you’ll also be able to request a manual review if you think your targeting is legitimate.

As part of the same update, advertisers creating ads for housing, employment and credit – while targeting segmented audiences – will also be asked to confirm they understand the policy updates.

If this applies to you, it’s worth noting the changes are an effort from Facebook to keep inline with the law, not restrict the targeting options it’s worked so hard to create over the years. The idea with the policy update is to stop a small number of advertisers who have been unfairly targeting people based on their ethnic backgrounds and a number of others who discriminate against audiences based on their ethnicity.

Of course, no advertiser wants to see targeting options restricted in any way but Facebook and other advertising platforms are bound to the law, like the rest of us. However, this does pose an interesting question: when does targeting people based on their ethnic background (among other things) become unethical?