Denise is a small town girl with big city ambition. When she's not roping in the strategy on her client's digital campaigns, you can find her in rural Alberta taking in some rodeo.

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Google and Facebook’s Policy Updates

Are you selling housing, employment and credit-based products and services? It just got harder to reach your audience.

Few marketers in North America are unfamiliar with Google and Facebook’s advertising products. Both tend to be cost-efficient channels for businesses to promote their products/ services. In fact, Google and Facebook together account for just over half of digital ad spend globally.

Policy update

One of the reasons these platforms are so popular for marketers is that they allow businesses the ability to target their marketing dollars towards specific audiences, leveraging characteristics like geography (country, region, city, postal/zip code), demographics (age, gender, education, relationship and parental status, language), and interests (business, entertainment, fitness, food & drink, hobbies, etc.) This has been a smart and efficient way to reach new and existing customers.

However, as more and more personal data is being used to target ads, the ethics of Google and Facebook’s targeting capabilities have been called into question. Activists of data privacy would question why Google and Facebook even allow for these unethical practices.

Both platforms attempt to ensure that advertisers cannot build campaigns that are racists or discriminatory. They already prohibit the targeting of ads using race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, or disabilities, but data ethicists argue that these restrictions do not go far enough and that companies have exploited loopholes to run campaigns that are discriminatory and unethical. 

One large case of this was in the United States, where Facebook was charged with violating the Fair Housing Act by the National Fair Housing Alliance and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development (HUD)(2017). Facebook was accused of  allowing advertisers to exclude certain groups of people from seeing ads because of their religious beliefs, race, or income.  One example from the lawsuit stated that Facebook had allowed landlords and real estate brokers to exclude non-Christian users who had an interest in “Hispanic culture” and were identified as working parents from seeing their housing ads. Facebook has paid nearly $5 million to settle this and other lawsuits where they were accused of allowing advertisers to unfairly exclude specific groups of people from housing, employment, and credit ads based on their age, gender, or race.

Facebook has subsequently updated its advertising policies to prevent this type of targeting. For all housing, employment and credit-related ads they no longer allow for targeting based on age, gender, zip code, multicultural affinity, or lookalike audiences. These changes started rolling out in the US in March of 2019 but will be coming to Canadian advertisers by the end of 2020. 

Over the last several months, widespread protests in North America speaking out against racism and discrimination against minorities and lower income individuals have led to a renewed call for organizations to evaluate their policies on inclusiveness and the need to stop unethical marketing practices. As part of these demands for change both Facebook and Google have been reviewing and further updating their policies.

On October 19, 2020 Google will be changing its advertising policies to prevent discrimination for the housing, employment, and credit industries.  These changes will apply to advertisers in both the US and Canada and ads will no longer be able to be targeted towards audiences based on their postal/zip code, gender, age, parental or marital status and life events specific to marriage (including “getting married soon” and “recently married”). Existing campaigns using any of these targeting options will stop serving until they have been changed to meet these new policies.

Some of the products and/or services that will be impacted include, but aren’t limited to:

Housing:  Promotion of housing for sale or rental. Housing includes apartments, mobile homes and houseboats. Businesses and services whose purpose is to enable sale or rental of homes.

Employment: Promotion of jobs or employment opportunities, hiring people for a job. This includes job search databases, Freelance listings, job listings for any business, job recruitment services, services for job seekers.

Credit: Offers of credit or products or services related to credit lending. This will include credit card application promotions, business-to-business loans, car rentals, offers of credit ie. credit cards, loans including home loans, car loans, appliance loans and short-term loans 

There will still be some targeting that Google will continue to allow with the housing, employment or credit campaigns. The following will not be restricted:

Household Income, Homeownership status, Education, Detailed Demographics (except those listed above), In-Market (including employment), Affinity, Custom Affinity, Life Events (except those listed above), Custom Intent, Similar Audiences, Geo – city, country, DMA/TV region, local subdivision, municipality, national subdivision, place of interest, province, region, state, location by demographic, airport, privacy safe radius.

The full Google policy can be viewed here.

What does this mean for marketers?

These changes do not mean that marketing Housing, Employment or Credit products and services won’t be possible going forward, or that campaigns will no longer be effective or efficient. It means that marketers will have to adapt and find new ways to target their audience. Especially in combination with cookies coming to the ends of its life (the digital tracking kind, don’t worry. Chocolate chip cookies are still good!), first-party data could be a new way to find relevant audiences. This would mean opted-in email lists or existing customer lists that can be encrypted and uploaded to platforms such as Google and Facebook. If you are in one of the affected industries and would like to discuss how to adjust your targeting strategy, Vovia can help. Drop us a line at!