Facebook may be sued over allegations that its advertising algorithm is discriminatory. a California state appeals court ruled last week. The decision stems from a class-action lawsuit filed against Facebook in 2020, which accused the company of failing to show insurance ads to women and seniors in violation of civil rights laws.
The case centers on Samantha Liapes, a 48-year-old woman who turned to Facebook to find an insurance provider. The lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s ad delivery system did not display Liapes’ insurance ads because of her age and gender.
In a September 21 ruling, the appeals court overturned an earlier decision that said Section 230 (which protects online platforms from legal liability if users post illegal content) shields Facebook from liability. The appeals court concluded that the case “adequately” alleges that Facebook “knew that insurance advertisers intentionally targeted their ads based on the age and sex of users” in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
He also found significant similarities between Facebook’s advertising platform and Roommates.com, a service that exceeded Section 230 protections including drop-down menus with options that allowed discrimination. “There is little difference with Facebook’s advertising tools” and its targeting capabilities, the court concluded. “Facebook does not limit itself to proliferating and disseminating content as a publisher… it creates, shapes or develops content” with the tools.