Facebook again accused of discriminatory ad targeting

Older and female users were denied Facebook ads about financial services, a lawsuit alleges.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
Expertise I've been writing about social media since 2015 but have previously covered politics, crime and education. I also have a degree in studio art. Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie award for consumer analysis
Queenie Wong
2 min read

Facebook was hit with another lawsuit this week for allegedly denying older women ads about financial services.  

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook has been repeatedly accused of allowing advertisers to discriminate against users by race, age and other characteristics, prompting the social network to make changes this year in regard to housing, credit and job ads.

But there's an area some users say the social network overlooked: ads for financial services.

This week, Neutah Opiotennione, a 54-year-old woman in Washington, DC, sued Facebook for allegedly denying her ads about financial services over the past three years because of her gender and age. The proposed class-action lawsuit, filed in a federal court in San Francisco on Thursday, alleges the company violated a state civil rights law by enabling advertisers to engage in these purportedly discriminatory practices. The lawsuit cites several examples in which advertisers for loans, life insurance and other financial services targeted users by age and gender. One ad by a trading platform targeted men ages 20 and older who live in the US, according to the lawsuit.

The suit is the latest example of the troubles plaguing Facebook's multibillion dollar ad business. In March, the company said advertisers running housing, employment and credit ads will no longer be able to target users based on age, gender or ZIP code, and will have fewer options when it comes to targeting users.

The changes were part of a settlement Facebook reached with civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed five discrimination lawsuits against the social network between 2016 and 2018. The lawsuits alleged Facebook allowed advertisers to discriminate against users by excluding people from seeing certain housing, employment and credit ads based on gender, age and where they lived. 

The company has been under pressure to make changes to its ad-targeting after ProPublica reported in 2016 that Facebook allowed advertisers to place housing ads that excluded users by race, which is illegal under federal law. In response, Facebook pulled a tool that allowed advertisers to exclude users from seeing housing, employment and credit ads based on their "ethnic affinity."

Facebook said it's currently reviewing the lawsuit filed this week.

"We've made significant changes to how housing, employment and credit opportunities are run on Facebook and continue to work on ways to prevent potential misuse," a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement Friday.  "Our policies have long prohibited discrimination and we're proud of the strides we're making in this area."