Google has announced an updating of its policies that will prohibit advertisers promoting housing, employment and credit access from targeting or excluding audiences based on demographics or place of residence.
In a statement on Google’s corporate blog, Scott Spencer, vice president of product management, ads privacy and safety, noted that the search engine has a decade-long policy that prevented advertisers from “targeting users on the basis of sensitive categories related to their identity, beliefs, sexuality, or personal hardships.”
Spencer said Google worked with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in revising its policies.
“This policy will prohibit impacted employment, housing, and credit advertisers from targeting or excluding ads based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP code, in addition to our longstanding policies prohibiting personalization based on sensitive categories like race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin or disability,” Spencer said.
“While the changing circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic and business continuity issues for many advertisers make precise timelines difficult, we plan to roll out this update in the U.S. and Canada as soon as possible and, in any event, by the end of this year. We will be providing advertisers with more information about how these changes may impact them in the coming weeks.”
According to Robert S. Bird, professor of business law at the University of Connecticut, Google’s announcement was not inspired by the ongoing protests around the country calling attention to historic social inequities, but appears to have been spurred by HUD’s March 2019 decision to file charges against Facebook for encouraging and enabling housing discrimination through its advertising platform, an action that HUD stated was in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit is still pending and the social media giant changed its policies shortly after litigation was filed.
“My guess is that Google took note of the litigation and the charges against Facebook and responded accordingly,” said Bird, pointing out that Google worked with HUD to formulate the new changes.
“Google was being proactive and is expanding upon its already well-established prohibitions of targeting ads based on gender, age, parental status and other features. These practices minimize some of the potential discrimination and other harmful activities that can occur through personal advertising policies. So, it’s the right move at the right time,” he said.
Bird predicted other major online entities will follow Google’s lead in readdressing advertising policies.
“When Google, a leader in the field and a highly legitimate actor in this space, is taking these proactive measures, it signals to the marketplace that this is something rivals need to be concerned about,” he said. “I would expect that competitors or others with similar practices will be taking a hard look at their own policies to see if they meet what are now evolving as best practices in the field.”