Global Witness Facebook Ad Targeting


On Sep. 13, Global Witness said ad targeting may breach UK laws.


  • Global Witness said Facebook users in UK may be excluded from viewing job ads based on protected characteristics like gender and age; further, may be in breach of UK laws.
  • Overview
  • Ads seen on Facebook completely depend on data it collects both on and off platform.
  • Using thousands of data points including characteristics such as age and gender it draws inferences about each user, profiling everyone and then charges advertisers.
  • It charges for the ability to target particular profiles and deliver ads to their feeds.
  • If you want ads to increase awareness of your brand Facebook’s optimization for ad delivery will aim to maximize total number of people who will remember seeing ads.
  • Blog provides example of specific job ad, how Facebook responded to request, etc.
  • Even though Facebook requires advertisers to confirm they will not discriminate when posting job ads, own ad delivery system appears to operate in discriminatory manner.
  • Facebook business model of profiting from profiling appears to replicate biases seen in world, potentially narrows user opportunities, prevents progress, equity in workplace.
  • Not first time questions raised on discriminatory impact of Facebook’s ad targeting.
  • UK Law Landscape
  • Faced with results from adverts, in light of evidence uncovered in other jurisdictions, it shared findings with Schona Jolly QC, a leading human rights and employment lawyer.
  • That authored a submission to UK Equality, Human Rights Commission on its behalf.
  • Her assessment states Facebook’s system may, does appear to, lead to discriminatory outcomes and further, that facts as found, collated by Global Witness…give rise to a strong suspicion that Facebook acted, continues to act, in breach Equality Act 2010.
  • Thus it asks EHRC to formally investigate Facebook’s compliance with UK equality laws.
  • Asks UK ICO to weigh in on compatibility of Facebook advertising products with GDPR.
  • If Facebook in breach of the UK’s anti-discrimination legislation, they may also fall foul of the UK GDPR’s requirement for data to be processed lawfully and fairly.
  • Facebook Defense
  • Recalled in Jun. 2021 Facebook launched defense of personalized targeted advertising.
  • Claiming that personalized ads level the playing field for small businesses by helping those ideas reach new customers; good ideas, said, deserve to be found.
  • Recommendations
  • In addition to the above, asks governments to require tech firms using algorithms with potential to discriminate against users to assess, mitigate those risks (till negligible).
  • Risk assessments to be public, overseen by independent body with powers to audit.
  • Governments to require tech companies to make criteria used to target online ads transparent, at the same level of detail that the advertisers themselves use.
  • Facebook to roll out changes made to housing, job, credit ads in US, Canada, world.
  • While these changes not sufficient to address any discrimination caused Facebook’s own algorithms, they are a start in addressing discrimination by advertisers.

Regulators Global Witness
Entity Types CNSM; Corp
Reference Bl 9/13/2021; UK GDPR; UK Equality Act 2010
Functions Advertising; Compliance; HR; Legal; Market Conduct; Privacy; Product Administration; Product Design; Risk; Sales Practices; Technology
Countries Global Regulator; United Kingdom
Products Corporate
Regions Global
Rule Type Guidance
Rule Date 9/13/2021
Effective Date 9/13/2021
Rule Id 115741
Linked to
Reg. Last Update 9/13/2021
Report Section International

Last substantive update on 09/14/2021