Facebook is engaging in online segregation and redlining by using certain protected characteristics – such as race, age and gender – to determine who receives ads for economic opportunities, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argues in an amicus brief filed today supporting plaintiffs in Liapes v. Facebook. The brief states that Facebook must stop this consumer discrimination, or we risk a new era of harmful redlining and segregation in online commerce.
The lawsuit, Liapes v. Facebook, alleges that Facebook discriminates in its provision of insurance advertisements, in violation of California law. The amicus brief walks through two main points. First, the brief explains how Facebook segregates its users on the basis of their protected characteristics. Second, it argues that such redlining is discriminatory and unjust regardless of whether it occurs online or offline.
“Facebook’s advertising algorithms are reinforcing historic and systemic inequalities by classifying users on the basis of their unchangeable characteristics,” said David Brody, senior counsel and senior fellow for Privacy and Technology at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Facebook controls a massive share of online advertising. When it redlines its users, it denies them equal access to economic opportunities like housing, employment, lending, insurance and education.”
Facebook collects large amounts of personal data from its’ users and its algorithms use that information to discriminate when deciding which ads they should receive. Facebook also builds tools that allow advertisers to exclude users based on sex, age and proxies for race. For example, advertisers can literally draw a red line around ZIP codes they want to exclude from receiving their ad. Researchers have shown that even when an advertiser does not want to discriminate on the basis of race or sex, Facebook’s algorithms will nevertheless steer the advertisement disproportionately based on stereotypes.
Facebook argues that its users can look to other platforms to find out about opportunities and access information, but forcing some categories of users to overcome artificial hurdles while others do not has long contributed segregation and discrimination. Facebook’s advertising system, at times, reduces the access of Black Americans and other communities of color have from seeing economic or wealth equity opportunities, such as job advertisements, insurance opportunities, or listings for home buyers.
California law states that all users must receive full and equal treatment. Facebook must be held accountable.
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