Facebook Accused by HUD of Housing Bias Over Targeted Ads

March 28, 2019 Updated: March 28, 2019

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it’s charging Facebook Inc. with allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act by restricting who can view housing-related ads.

Facebook enables and encourages discrimination based on things like race and religion, as well as sex, by restricting who can see housing-related ads on its platforms and across the internet, HUD said March 28 in a statement.

“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

The social network allowed those advertising housing to exclude people it classified as parents; non-American-born; non-Christian; interested in accessibility and Hispanic culture; as well as other group’s deemed protected classes, according to HUD.

A Facebook has been working to address many of the issues raised, a company spokesman said March 28, citing a decision last year to eliminate targeting options that could be misused. Last week, the Menlo Park, California-based company reached agreements with the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union and others to change how housing and credit ads can be run on the platform. Facebook said it would no longer let advertisements for housing, jobs or credit be targeted to particular users by age, gender or zip codes and companies that use the social network and its other platforms to run those ads will have to certify compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

“We’re surprised by HUD’s decision, as we’ve been working with them to address their concerns and have taken significant steps to prevent ads discrimination,” Facebook said in the statement. “While we were eager to find a solution, HUD insisted on access to sensitive information—like user data—without adequate safeguards. We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues.”

Facebook fell less than 1 percent to $165.29 at 11:15 a.m. in New York.

HUD’s accusation will be heard by a U.S. administrative law judge unless one of the parties to the lawsuit wants it moved to federal district court, according to the agency. If the judge rules that Facebook violated the Fair Housing Act, penalties could include fines and a ban on the ads in question.

 

By Terrence Dopp

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