Meta is launching a new ad distribution system in the US as part of the settlement it reached with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) last year. In an announcement on his siteMeta says its new Variance Reduction System (VRS) will create a more “fair distribution of advertising” across the company’s platforms, addressing claims that the platform promoted housing discrimination by allowing advertisers to exclude protected groups from their marketing campaigns.
Things came to a head when the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) filed a lawsuit against the company in 2019. Last year, the DOJ, which represents the HUD, reached a settlement with Meta that requires the company to develop a new system to “address racial and other inequities caused by the use of personalization algorithms in the ad serving system.”
In this most recent announcement, Meta explains that the updated system uses “new machine learning technology” when serving ads, making an ad’s actual audience more accurately reflect its “eligible” audience.
Once the ad has been seen by enough people, says Meta the VRS measures the total age, gender, and approximate distribution of race or ethnicity of the group. It then compares this information to the population of “people who are more broadly eligible to see the ad,” and if there’s too much difference in distribution, the system automatically adjusts the pace of ads to “expand the variance between the target audiences”. .”
The DOJ responded to the change in a press release, noting that Meta will be under court supervision until June 27, 2026. As part of the agreement, a third-party reviewer will assess whether Meta’s new VRS meets the terms reached in the settlement. Meta must also meet certain milestones within a certain time period: by December 31, 2023, Meta must reduce variances to “less than or equal to 10% for 91.7% of those ads for sex and less than or equal to 10% for 81 .0% of those ads for estimated race/ethnicity.”
“This groundbreaking resolution sets a new standard for addressing discrimination through machine learning,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “We appreciate that Meta has agreed to work with us to resolve this issue and applaud Meta for taking the first steps to address algorithmic bias.”
According to Meta, the VRS has no access to users’ age, gender, or race and will measure estimated race or ethnicity using a tool called the Bayesian enhanced surname geocoding. While Meta has already started rolling out the system for housing ads, the company says it will eventually expand it to US employment and credit ads. You can read more about the VRS in this white paper.