US accuses Facebook of discrimination over housing ads

The move comes one week after Facebook announced it was revamping how it uses targeted advertising

Afp March 28, 2019

WASHINGTON DC: US officials accused Facebook of discrimination Thursday for using its targeted advertising to limit who sees postings for certain kinds of housing.

Administrative charges filed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development said Facebook "unlawfully discriminates based on race, colour, national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disability" by restricting who can view housing-related ads.

"Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

"Using a computer to limit a person's housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone's face."

The move comes one week after Facebook announced it was revamping how it uses targeted advertising in a settlement with activist groups alleging it discriminated in messages on jobs, housing, credit and other services.

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The leading social network said housing, employment or credit ads would no longer be allowed to target by age, gender or zip code -- a practice critics argued had led to discrimination.

The modifications were announced as part of a settlement with the National Fair American Civil Liberties Union, National Fair Housing Alliance, Communication Workers of America and others.

The HUD charges follow a complaint filed last August and ask an administrative law judge to order corrective actions by Facebook as well as unspecified damages.

According to the complaint, Facebook enabled advertisers to exclude people whom Facebook classified as parents, non-US-born, non-Christian, interested in Hispanic culture or otherwise segmented in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

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HUD also alleged Facebook enabled advertisers to exclude people based upon their neighbourhood by drawing a red line around those neighbourhoods on a map, and gave advertisers the option of showing ads only to men or only to women.

An administrative law judge will hear the charges unless Facebook or another affected party asks for the case to go to federal district court, according to HUD.

The law judge may award fines and damages or an injunction against Facebook.


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