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article imageNevada Senator's bill bans discriminatory ads on social media

By Ken Hanly     Feb 28, 2019 in Internet
Nevada Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is introducing into the Senate the Data Privacy Act that will explicitly ban platforms such as Facebook and Google from using targeted ads that discriminate against protected groups.
The Data Privacy Act
Cortez Masto's Act would give the power to the Federal Trade Commission to provide specific definitions for what is considered discriminatory behavior in targeted ads. The act also extends the FTC's authority for violations of the rules along with other protections on user data.
This would include discrimination based on race, sexual orientation or gender.
A spokesperson for Cortez Masto told Verge: “The Senator is focused [on making sure] that as Congress tackles the issue of protecting Americans data privacy, our government is also guarding against potential forms of digital discrimination in areas ranging from housing and employment to lending and access to resources.”
Previous discriminatory ads on Facebook
In 2016, Pro Publica purchased an ad in the housing category on Facebook in which they were able to exclude from the target anyone with an affinity for African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic people.
Pro Publica noted: "When we showed Facebook’s racial exclusion options to a prominent civil rights lawyer John Relman, he gasped and said, “This is horrifying. This is massively illegal. This is about as blatant a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act as one can find.”"
Facebook responded to Pro Publica by removing various targeting categories. However, a year later Pro Publica found that discriminatory targeting was still possible.
In November of 2017 a Pro Publica article wrote: "Last week, ProPublica bought dozens of rental housing ads on Facebook, but asked that they not be shown to certain categories of users, such as African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers. All of these groups are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to publish any 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.” Violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Every single ad was approved within minutes."
Last April, Cortez Masto, along with more than a dozen other senators, signed a letter urging Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to combat discriminatory ads for both housing and jobs.
The letter said in part: “The practice of discriminatory ad targeting is particularly nefarious because Facebook users cannot meaningfully control which ads they see; thus, discriminatory practices may go undetected. Barring advertisers from tailoring their ads to discriminate against users on the basis of their protected characteristics is a necessary step.”
Other provisions of the Privacy Act
The bill would also demand that platforms be more transparent about the way in which they collect, process, and store user data. Any collection of data would need to be for legitimate business or operational purposes and could not subject the use to a privacy risk. The platforms would be barred from deceiving users about how their data was being used. In most cases users should be able to opt out of the collection and storage of their data.
Industry groups want smaller businesses to be exempt from some of the bill's more onerous provisions, that collect data on less than 3,000 people per year and which have revenues of less than $25 million per year.
More about Facebook, Data Privacy act, Catherine Cortez Masto
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