New York State

Cuomo targets Facebook ad practices

Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the Department of Financial Services to investigate reports that Facebook advertisers are able to block or modify ads in a discriminatory manner.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Shutterstock

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a probe into claims that Facebook’s advertising platform allowed state-regulated advertisers to discriminate against users based on race, national origin, religion, and other classifications. Cuomo directed the Department of Financial Services to investigate reports that Facebook advertisers are able to block or modify ads in a discriminatory manner, like Facebook users seeking housing being discriminated against based on criteria like race and familial status.

This isn’t the first of New York’s probes into Facebook, even this year. In February, Cuomo ordered an investigation into reports that Facebook collects users’ sensitive health data from other smartphone apps. But this one targets the company from a new perspective – and an important one at that, according to Mark Bartholomew, an intellectual property law and technology professor at the University of Buffalo School of Law. “I think it’s really good that investigators are looking into advertising practices. I think we tend to sometimes say, ‘Well, advertising’s not that important, it’s just the things I click through or ignore,’” Bartholomew said. “But all of Facebook’s business model hinges on its success in getting us to buy things. So it’s good to look at that. That’s the most important part of what Facebook does.”

Facebook agreed to overhaul its advertising platform after settling a series of suits with civil rights groups earlier this year, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has also charged that the platform violates the Fair Housing Act by restricting who can view housing ads. Even with that pressure at the federal level, the state probe is nothing to scoff at, Bartholomew said. “If I was Facebook, I’d take it very seriously.”

For the rest of today's tech news, head over to First Read Tech.

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