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Facebook suspends ability to target ads by excluding racial groups

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 Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it was temporarily disabling the ability of advertisers on its social network to exclude racial groups from the intended audience of ads while it studies how the feature could be used to discriminate.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, told African-American U.S. lawmakers in a letter that the company was determined to do better after a news report said Facebook had failed to block discriminatory ads.

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The U.S.-based news organization ProPublica reported last week that, as part of an investigation, it had purchased discriminatory housing ads on Facebook and slipped them past the company’s review process, despite claims by Facebook months earlier that it was able to detect and block such ads.

“Until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately, we are disabling the option that permits advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity segments from the audience for their ads,” Sandberg wrote in the letter to the Congressional Black Caucus, according to a copy posted online by ProPublica.

It is unlawful under U.S. law to publish certain types of ads if they indicate a preference based on race, religion, sex or certain classifications.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 2.1 billion users and $36 billion in annual revenue, has been on the defensive for its advertising practices.

In September it disclosed the existence of Russia-linked ads that ran during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. The same month it turned off a tool, also reported by ProPublica, that had inadvertently let advertisers target based on people’s self-reported job, even if the job was “Jew hater.”

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Sandberg said in the letter that advertisers who use Facebook’s targeting options to include certain races for ads about housing, employment or credit will have to certify to Facebook that they are complying with Facebook’s anti-discrimination policy and with applicable law.

Sandberg defended race- and culture-based marketing in general, saying it was a common and legitimate practice in the ad industry to try to reach specific communities.

U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Facebook’s action was appropriate.

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“When I first raised this issue with Facebook, I was disappointed,” Kelly, a Democrat, said in a statement. “When it became necessary to raise the issue again, I was irritated. Thankfully, we’ve been able to establish a constructive pipeline of communication that’s resulted in a positive step forward.”

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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How climate change reduced the flow of the Colorado River

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The massive Colorado River, which provides water for seven US states, has seen its flow reduced by 20 percent over the course of a century -- and more than half of that loss is due to climate change, according to new research published Thursday.

Two scientists at the US Geological Survey developed a mathematical model of the water movements -- snowfall, rainfall, run-off, evaporation -- in the upper Colorado River basin for the period from 1913 to 2017.

To do so, they used historical temperature and precipitation data, along with satellite readings of radiation, in order to understand how climate change had affected those water movements.

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‘Possibly the craziest and scariest thing he has done’: Conservative blasts Trump for DNI Richard Grenell

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Conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot blasted President Donald Trump's new appointee Richard Grenell to take over as acting director of national intelligence.

Previously, Trump was furious at his acting DNI when he learned that Democrats were given an intelligence briefing. The source speaking to the Post said that Trump gave Maguire a “dressing down” that left the former acting DNI “despondent.”

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FBI investigating Erik Prince for arms trafficking after attempt to modify crop dusters into attack aircraft: report

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly investigating prominent Donald Trump supporter Erik Prince for violating arms trafficking laws.

"Prince, an heir to a billion-dollar fortune who is widely viewed as a shadow adviser to the president, is under federal investigation for his 2015 attempt to modify two American-made crop-dusting planes into attack aircraft — a violation of arms trafficking regulations," The Intercept reported Thursday, citing "two people familiar with the investigation."

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