Facebook is allegedly allowing advertisers to post adverts on their platform that can exclude users based on their ethnic origin.
The social media giant's ad platform allows advertisers to target specific user groups based on information provided by Facebook users, however a report by non-profit investigative journalism group ProPublica said that the system is being used to exclude specific groups it calls 'Ethnic Affinities,' that include black, Hispanic, Asian American and others.
Ads targeting people based on their race may violate a number of laws in the US that prohibit discrimination of this kind, according to International Business Times (IBT).
A sample ad created by ProbPublica for housing rentals demonstrates how the system can be used to narrow down demographics by excluding certain groups like African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics. Such ads will then not be available to those Facebook users who have declared their ethnicity on their profiles.
In the US, under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 it is illegal "to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin."
Facebook dismissed the allegations and said that it began offering the 'Ethnic Affinity' categories within the past two years as part of a "multicultural advertising" effort.
"Ethnic Affinity is not the same as race — which Facebook does not ask its members about. Facebook assigns members an 'Ethnic Affinity' based on pages and posts they have liked or engaged with on Facebook," Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook told IBT.