Internet Giants Try to Rein in Automated Offensive Ad T…

The world’s largest digital advertising companies reined in their automated money-making machines after the systems were shown to spit out ads based on racist and other offensive information. 

Facebook Inc. shut off a key self-service ad tool, while Google stopped its main Search ad system automatically from suggesting offensive phrases for targeting. The moves are the latest sign of rising scrutiny of the largest U.S. internet companies and how their software-driven services and ad businesses are influencing society. 

The companies have thrived on their ability to offer targeted ads on a massive scale across huge audiences without much human intervention. This week, several news organizations showed they could buy ads based on racist and antisemitic terms or categories. The biggest advertisers are unlikely to run marketing campaigns like this, but it shows how these systems are open to abuse and may require more hands-on monitoring.

Facebook said advertisers will no longer be able to target people by how they describe their education or employer after finding that some were filling in those fields with offensive content.

The social networking company will remove targeting by self-reported education, field of study, job title and employment fields in user profiles until it can fix the problem in its self-service advertising system. The decision came after investigative news site ProPublica found advertisers could target users who express interest in anti-Semitic categories like “Jew haters.”

“We are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue,” the company said.

The system had automatically been populating interest categories based on what community members post about themselves. “We prohibit advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes,” the company said. “However, there are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards. We know we have more work to do.”

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