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Washington AG Bob Ferguson. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Facebook has agreed to stop allowing third-party advertisers to exclude ethnic and religious groups when targeting ads for housing, credit, employment, insurance or public accommodations as part of a settlement with Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Tuesday.

Under the agreement, Facebook has 90 days to remove the ability for advertisers to prevent certain races, sexual orientations, or other protected groups from seeing their ads. The deal is a result of a 20-month investigation by Ferguson’s office.

The AG opened the investigation in response to a ProPublica article published in 2016. The story revealed that advertisers could purchase ads for housing and jobs that would not be visible to specific groups, like black or Hispanic Facebook users. Investigators say they were able to create 20 fake ads excluding one or more minorities and publish them to Facebook without friction.

“Facebook’s advertising platform allowed unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, disability and religion,” Ferguson said in a statement. “That’s wrong, illegal, and unfair.”

Ferguson says the practice violated Washington state law, but Facebook denies that allegation in the agreement, which was filed in King County Superior Court.

“Facebook believes that its advertising platform fully complies with all applicable laws, denies that it has engaged in any act or practice in violation of [Washington state law] or any other law,” the agreement says.

Nevertheless, Facebook will change its advertising policies nationwide according to Ferguson. Facebook could not be immediately reached to comment on the arrangement.

Facebook Agreement by GeekWire on Scribd

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