Does targeted advertising encourage discrimination?

One of the major benefits of advertising on social media is that you can accurately target your message to very specific groups of people. When it comes to advertising jobs, this means you can aim at people you feel would be most suitable for the role. But can this lead to the inadvertent – or even deliberate – introduction of discrimination?

In September 2018, a group of people in the US started legal action against Facebook and a group of other companies on the grounds that jobs such as labouring and truck driving had been targeted specifically at males. The case has yet to be decided, but it could have a major impact on online advertising.

Similarly, an investigation by the New York Times [1] in 2017 found that Facebook had been used to target jobs at particular age groups, meaning those outside the range never saw them. It’s also been found that it’s possible to use online platforms to discriminate on the basis of race and disability. [2]

The problem is that targeted advertising is the lifeblood of online media. Without it, companies such as Facebook and Google and a whole host of specialist advertisers lose much of their USP. These companies rely on adverts for the lion’s share of their income and the services we all use including Google Search and Maps are financed by adverts.

Changing society

So restricting targeting to prevent discrimination could be a major issue for the technology giants. But would it be better for society? Recent electoral campaigns both here and in the US have seen ads aimed at specific groups. This has also driven the ‘fake news’ phenomenon as people post click-bait stories in order to gain page views for their ads.

Of course for advertising to work, internet firms need to collect data about you and track what you’re looking at. Google Analytics is present on around 70 per cent of the top million websites, according to a 2016 study. [3] This is a far cry from the original aims of Google’s founders who felt that advertising had been responsible for corrupting other search services.

New legislation such as GDPR is already making consumers more aware as to how much information about themselves they are giving away. If it becomes accepted that targeted advertising could be a form of discrimination, then the digital world is going to have to change. Businesses will have to be clearer about the ways they collect and use our information.

This could even lead to a shift in the way online services are financed. Would you be willing to pay for your searches or your social media page if it meant your activity wasn’t monitored and tracked? This may currently seem a far-fetched idea, but as awareness of data use – and misuse – grows, this is precisely the sort of major shift the industry will need to face up to.

If you need executives who are equipped to handle the challenges of the changing digital world, then the team at Clifford Associates can help you to find them.

[1] https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-ads-age-discrimination-targeting
[2] https://www.atg.wa.gov/news/news-releases/ag-ferguson-investigation-leads-facebook-making-nationwide-changes-prohibit
[3] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601488/largest-study-of-online-tracking-proves-google-really-is-watching-us-all/

 

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