Facebook’s Sexist, Ageist Ad-Targeting Violates California Law, Court Finds | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Facebook may have to overhaul its entire ad-targeting system after a California court ruled (PDF) last month that the platform’s practice of routinely targeting ads by age, gender, and other protected categories violates a state anti-discrimination law. The decision came after a 48-year-old Facebook user, Samantha Liapes, fought for years to prove that Facebook had discriminated against her as an older woman using the platform’s ad-targeting system to shop for life insurance policies.

Liapes filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook in 2020. In her complaint, Liapes alleged that “Facebook requires all advertisers to choose the age and gender of its users who will receive ads, and companies offering insurance products routinely tell it to not send their ads to women or older people.” Further, she alleged that Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithm magnifies the problem by using these required inputs to serve the ads to “lookalike audiences.” Through its algorithm, Liapes alleged that she found that Facebook “discriminates against women and older people,” by intentionally excluding them from seeing certain life insurance ads. This, Liapes alleged, caused harm by preventing her from signing up for deals that “often change and may expire” — deals which she said were disproportionately being advertised on Facebook to younger and/or male audiences. As evidence, Liapes pointed to ads that Facebook did not serve to her — allegedly because advertisers used the platform’s Audience Selection and Lookalike Audience tools to exclude her — as an older woman […]. “As a result, she had a harder time learning about those products or services,” Liapes’ complaint alleged. […]

Initially, a court agreed with Facebook’s arguments that Liapes had not provided sufficient evidence establishing Facebook’s intent or demonstrating harms caused, but rather than amend her complaint, Liapes appealed. Then, in what tech law expert Eric Goldman on his blog called a “shocking conclusion,” a California court last month reversed that initial decision, finding instead that Facebook’s ad-targeting tools are not neutral, discriminate against users by age and gender, and are not immune under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Goldman — who joked that Liapes wanting more Facebook ads is “a desire shared by almost no one” — said that the potential impact of this ruling goes beyond possibly shaking up Facebook’s ad system. It also seemingly implicates every other ad network by finding that “any gender- or age-based ad targeting for any product or service (and targeting based on any other protected characteristics) could violate the Unruh Act.” If the ruling is upheld, that could “have devastating effects on the entire Internet ecosystem,” Goldman warned. “The court’s single-minded determination to find a valid discrimination claim under these conditions casts a long and troubling shadow over the online advertising industry,” Goldman wrote in his blog. “Who needs new privacy laws if the Unruh Act already bans most ad targeting?”

“The opinion never expressly says that the Unruh Act regulates ad targeting,” Goldman told Ars. “It takes some reading between the lines to reach that conclusion.”

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