Meta rolls out a new ad delivery system in response to discrimination

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Meta Platforms Inc. said today that after working with the Department of Justice, it’s now ready to roll out a new technology that should distribute ads on its platforms more equitably.

The social media giant settled with the DOJ last year after the company admitted that its housing ads algorithm had discriminated against people based on their race, color, nationality, zip code, disability, familial status, and gender. It had been proven that advertisers had been able to discriminate regarding who saw their housing ads, which was in violation of the Fair Housing Act. There are various reports of this kind of social media advertising discrimination going back to 2016.

While Meta only paid $115,054 – not much for such a tech giant – the lawsuit was called “ground-breaking” given algorithmic advertising and related transgressions were a fairly new thing. At the time, Meta said it was developing a “novel use of machine learning technology” to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The company added that this new algorithm was “unprecedented in the advertising industry” but said it would take some time to be put into action.

That was more than half a year ago. The new system, the “Variance Reduction System,” which Meta says will ensure an “equitable distribution of ads”, is currently being rolled out across all platforms belonging to the company.

“After the ad has been shown to a large enough group of people, the VRS measures aggregate demographic distribution of those who have seen the ad to understand how that audience compares with the demographic distribution of the eligible target audience selected by the advertiser,” Meta explained in a post, adding that over the course of an ad campaign, the system will get more effective.

The company said there’s still more work to be done in the relatively new area of creating algorithmic fairness within advertising, but it said it will make it a priority from now on to have digital advertising on its platforms fair and equitable at all times.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams thanked Meta for its efforts, saying in a press release for the DOJ that this “ground-breaking resolution sets a new standard for addressing discrimination.” He added that he now hopes other companies will follow Meta’s lead. Otherwise, they will also be subjected to being dragged into court under violations of the Fair Housing Act.

Photo: Dima Solomin/Unsplash

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