Google announces new policy to restrict discriminatory ad targeting
Google says it's introducing a new policy that aims to restrict discriminatory ad targeting practices.
Advertisers will soon no longer be able to use gender, age, parental status, marital status and zip code when targeting consumers in areas such as employment, housing and credit services, the company said late Thursday. Although the search giant did not provide a specific timeline of when the new policy goes into effect, Scott Spencer, VP of product management for ads privacy and safety at Google, says the changes will roll out “as soon as possible.”
The ongoing Black Lives Matter movement has prompted some industry leaders to look under the hood of their advertising technology and see if any discriminatory practices are in place. Vice Media, for instance, yesterday called on marketers to reexamine their keyword targeting lists as some recently began blocking keywords such as “black people” and “BLM.”
And, on Monday, Will Cady, head of brand strategy at Reddit, described the impact so-called whitelists have on multicultural media. “What began as a protectionist measure for advertisers to keep their brands socially-distant from toxic content evolved into a years-long moral crusade of financial leveraging to clean up the entire Internet,” he wrote. “The problem is that the practice of ‘whitelisting’ dictates where money, and thus resources, flows across the Internet—and its standards are rife with unconscious bias.”
Federal law prohibits practices on targeting users based on categories such as race and religion, but the complexities of ad tech often make them unseen to the general public. Spencer says Google has been working closely with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on these changes “for some time.”
“For over a decade, we’ve also had personalized advertising policies that prohibit advertisers from targeting users on the basis of sensitive categories related to their identity, beliefs, sexuality, or personal hardships,” Spencer wrote in a blog post. “This means we don’t allow advertisers to target ads based on categories such as race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, to name a few. We regularly evaluate and evolve our policies to ensure they are protecting users from behaviors like unlawful discrimination.”
Spencer also notes Google's efforts in distributing $1 billion for affordable housing development in the San Francisco bay area, which has led to hundreds of new units through its first six months, he says.
“We appreciate [HUD's] guidance in helping us make progress on these important issues,” Spencer added. “We will also continue to work with HUD, civil rights and housing experts and the broader advertising industry to address concerns around discrimination in ad targeting.”
Google’s recent decision is similar to one that Facebook implemented last year.