Skip to Content

Discrimination in online advertisements

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman receives regularly complaints about discriminatory or racist advertisements in various advertising services. The most recent example was a property rental advertisement in which the tenant was required to be a Finnish citizen and speak Finnish fluently. The advertisement was in clear violation of the Non-Discrimination Act and broke to rules of non-discrimination.  

The Ombudsman contacted the representatives of Oikotie Asunnot, who in their response stated that they did not accept inappropriate or discriminatory advertising in any form and stressed that they were committed to promoting equality by all means available to them and expected the same from their advertisers. In its terms of use, Oikotie Asunnot requires that the advertiser agrees not to post or transmit any material or content that is discriminatory, offensive, defamatory, against the law or otherwise against good practices. Oikotie also has built-in features in its service that helps identify and prevent inappropriate advertising.  

Advertiser’s responsibilities 

What type of discrimination has there been in advertisements? In property advertising, it is against the Non-Discrimination Act to require the tenant to have Finnish citizenship. Nor is it legal to express that the advertiser will not accept a particular ethnic group as tenants. Requiring that the tenant speaks fluent Finnish may also constitute discrimination. There are several ways to enable sufficient communication between the landlord and the tenant, such as using another language that both parties speak or use an interpreter.    

The case in point is one example of discriminatory behaviour by a private individual that is also against the Non-Discrimination Act. All public advertising of goods and services falls within the scope of the Non-Discrimination Act. An advertiser of a service or item, that is, the person who has created the advertisement, may be held liable for compensation under the Non-Discrimination Act if the advertising is considered to constitute a provision of service. In other words, anyone posting a discriminatory advertisement may be held liable to pay compensation to the victim of discrimination.  In this particular example, the Ombudsman had no knowledge of a victim, or a person who had applied for the flat, so claiming compensation was not possible at this time. 

Good practices and the promotion of equality

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is satisfied with the way Oikotie handled the issue. Oikotie is invests in advising advertisers and training their customer service personnel to identify inappropriate and discriminatory advertisements. Inappropriate advertisements will be removed or requested to be edited, and the advertiser will be notified. 

There are currently numerous online and social media services for goods and services available for the public in Finland. Based on the Ombudsman’s experience, the providers of these services have different ways of intervening with inappropriate advertising. It is important that the service platform providers are themselves aware that responsible operators intervene with discriminatory advertising and inappropriate conduct and promote equality by setting good examples through their own actions.

Under the Non-Discrimination Act, it is prohibited to discriminate against a person on the basis of their age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics (Non-Discrimination Act 1325/2014). 

Advertisements for properties for sale and rent fall within the category of public activities and therefore the scope of the Act (section 2). The person or agent selling or letting may select the buyer or tenant but not on discriminatory grounds. The seller, landlord or agent naturally have a right to require that the buyer or tenant have ability to pay and are able to meet their contractual obligations, but the selection of a tenant may not be based on for example the person’s ethnic origin, nationality, religion or disability.  The seller, landlord or agent would be guilty of unlawful discrimination under the Non-Discrimination Act if a person is treated less favourably than another person would be treated in a comparable situation based on personal characteristics. 

According to section 4 of the Non-Discrimination Act, a provider of goods and services means a party that professionally offers goods or services for general availability. When a private individual places an investment property for rent and advertises this publicly, it is be considered professional provision of services.