The company launched its Variance Reduction System this week, a provision in the settlement Meta worked out with the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, announced on Monday a new effort to combat algorithmic discrimination in housing advertisements, following over a year of negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The company launched its Variance Reduction System (VRS) this week, a provision in the settlement Meta worked out with the DOJ as a result of a lawsuit filed by the government in New York federal court that claims the social media giant used a “discriminatory algorithm” that gave preference to certain demographic groups over others when displaying housing advertisements. The government said the algorithm violated the Fair Housing Act.

Meta will eventually extend the VRS to include its ads for employment and credit, it announced Monday. It will also discontinue the use of Special Ad Audiences, according to the statement.

“Across the industry, approaches to algorithmic fairness are still evolving, particularly as it relates to digital advertising,” Deputy General Counsel at Meta Roy Austin said in a statement. “But we know we cannot wait for consensus to make progress in addressing important concerns about the potential for discrimination.”

The DOJ’s lawsuit alleged that Facebook allowed advertisers to target their housing ads to Facebook users based on their ethnicity, religion, sex, disability status, familial status, national origin and other identifiers that violated the Fair Housing Act.

It also claimed that the system Facebook used to deliver its ads used an algorithm that helped determine which subset of an audience received certain housing ads, relying on race, religion, nationality and gender data, all of which are protected factors under the Fair Housing Act.

The new system marks the first time Meta will be subject to federal monitoring of its ad delivery system.

“This development marks a pivotal step in the Justice Department’s efforts to hold Meta accountable for unlawful algorithmic bias and discriminatory ad delivery on its platforms,” Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the justice department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “Federal monitoring of Meta should send a strong signal to other tech companies that they too will be held accountable for failing to address algorithmic discrimination that runs afoul of our civil rights laws.”

The news comes after Facebook changed its listings rules for real estate agents, forbidding them from posting real estate listings from their business profiles and requiring them to be posted from personal profiles instead.

Email Ben Verde

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