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Facebook’s Race-Targeted Ads Aren’t as Racist As You Think

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Michael Wilson
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In late October ProPublica released a scathing investigation showing how Facebook allows digital advertisers to narrow their target audience based on ethnic affinities like African-American or Hispanic.

in mathematics from Harvard in 2015 and is a statistics PhD student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he is studying issues of fairness in machine learning.

Facebook s privacy and public policy manager, Steve Satterfield, told ProPublica that these ethnic filters exist to allow advertisers to test how different advertisements perform with different sections of the population.

While A/B testing is standard practice at large tech companies, his comment did not address whether it is appropriate to segment these tests by ethnicity.

ProPublica s report isn t Facebook s first scandal about the company s online algorithms encoding human biases see the firing of human editors in the company s trending feature , and it may not be its last.

But there are also good reasons why this type of targeting might not always be racist, and could even be necessary to prevent discrimination.

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Michael Wilson
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