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HUD charges Facebook with enabling housing bias through targeted ads

Facebook charged with housing discrimination
  • The Fair Housing Act bans discrimination in housing and related services, including ads, based on several criteria
  • HUD is charging Facebook with violating that law because it sold housing ads that were targeted to exclude groups including parents and immigrants
  • It also said Facebook let advertisers exclude people living in certain neighborhoods or target ads only to women or to men

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Thursday it's charging Facebook with violating the Fair Housing Act. HUD said the social media giant sold targeted ads that allowed landlords and other advertisers to exclude certain groups, such as parents and immigrants. 

The action follows HUD's investigation of a complaint filed last year, the agency said. The Fair Housing Act bans discrimination in housing and related services, including ads, based on a person's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status.  

HUD claims Facebook allowed advertisers to target -- and exclude -- certain consumers based on those characteristics. For instance, it alleges Facebook's ad-targeting service let advertisers exclude people who were classified as parents, born outside the U.S., or interested in accessibility or Hispanic culture, all of which are protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.

Slamming a digital door

"Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in a statement. "Using a computer to limit a person's housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone's face." HUD also claims Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude people who live in certain neighborhoods as well as display ads only to women or to men. 

Earlier this month, Facebook said it would overhaul its ad-targeting systems to prevent discrimination in housing, credit and job ads as part of a legal settlement. The company said it would no longer allow housing, work or credit ads to target people by age, gender or ZIP code, and would introduce a range of other targeting limitations. It's also paying about $5 million to cover plaintiffs' legal fees and other costs.

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