News

FACEBOOK Facing Fair Housing Review

HUD files a case against Facebook for discriminatory advertising

Mar 28, 2019

Source: WALL STREET JOURNAL 3 28 19  

Facebook was charged by the Department of Housing and Urban Development

  …on Thursday for allegedly restricting who can view housing-related ads based on race, color, religion and more.  

By:  Daniel Nasaw  

Updated March 28, 2019 8:39 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Department of Housing and Urban Development said it was charging Facebook Inc. with violating fair housing laws by enabling real-estate companies to improperly limit who can view advertisements on its platform.

The charges under the Fair Housing Act, announced in a statement Thursday morning, accuse the social-media giant of unlawfully discriminating based on race, color, national origin, religion and more, “by restricting who can view housing-related ads.”

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

The department said Facebook let advertisers exclude people from viewing housing and housing-related ads based on demographics including status as parents, citizenship status, interest in Hispanic culture, gender and more categories.

The charges are civil in nature, not criminal. HUD said the charges would be heard either by a federal administrative law judge or a federal district judge. If a judge in either venue rules against Facebook, the judge can assess damages and fines, HUD said.

A spokesman for Facebook said the company was surprised by HUD’s action because the company had been working with the department to address their concerns, and said it had taken steps to prevent advertising discrimination. The spokesman said the company last year eliminated thousands of targeting options subject to misuse, among other measures.

“While we were eager to find a solution, HUD insisted on access to sensitive information—like user data—without adequate safeguards,” the spokesman said in a statement. “We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues.”

The HUD charges come more than a week after Facebook said it was removing age, gender and ZIP Code targeting for housing, employment and credit-related advertisements, part of a settlement with advocacy groups and other plaintiffs that included payments of just under $5 million.

Those changes were the latest step by the social network to curtail fallout around its ad targeting. Facebook stopped letting advertisers target housing, employment and credit-related ads by ethnic affinity shortly after a 2016 report from investigative-news site ProPublica, which said it had been able to buy ads targeted to house hunters that excluded certain groups based on ethnicity.

In its changes announced last week, Facebook said it would build a tool to let people search all its housing ads in the U.S., and that it still had been working with HUD to address its concerns.

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