Meta, formerly known as Facebook, faces the possibility of a major overhaul of its ad-targeting system after a California court determined that the platform’s practice of routinely targeting ads based on age, gender, and other protected categories violates the state’s anti-discrimination law.
— 👠 Laura #Covfefe 👠 (@mwenger1993) October 11, 2023
The case, brought forward by Samantha Liapes, a 48-year-old user, is based on allegations that the platform’s ad-targeting system discriminated against her as an older woman, particularly when she was seeking life insurance policies.
The complaint, which was filed in 2020, pointed out that Facebook required advertisers to select the age and gender of users who would receive their ads, which, according to Liapes, resulted in companies excluding women and older individuals from seeing their insurance ads. She also argued that Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithm exacerbated the issue by targeting “lookalike audiences” based on these demographics.
According to Liapes, this discriminatory practice prevented her from accessing time-sensitive deals, as life insurance ads with appealing offers were primarily directed at younger and male audiences on Facebook. She cited instances where she observed insurance ads exclusively sent to males aged 30 to 49 and others that omitted her because they were intended for individuals aged 25 to 45.
Facebook, on the other hand, claimed that its ad-targeting tools were neutral and suggested that Liapes may have been shown different versions of the ads she claimed to have been excluded from. The social media giant also argued that she might have been presented with ads offering better deals, mitigating any harm.
Initially, a court sided with Facebook’s arguments, ruling that Liapes’ case lacked sufficient evidence establishing Facebook’s intent or proving any harm caused. However, she appealed and in a September decision, a court disagreed with Facebook’s arguments, ruling that Liapes had sufficiently presented a valid discrimination claim.
As agreed by the California court, “Liapes has stated an Unruh Civil Rights Act claim,” which is designed to prevent businesses from discriminating against individuals based on protected characteristics like gender and age.
The Unruh Civil Rights Act in California aims to eliminate arbitrary discrimination in business establishments and ensure equal access for all individuals. It safeguards each person’s inherent right to “full and equal” access to “all business establishments.”