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Facebook Accused of Enabling Housing Discrimination

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A complaint filed against Facebook alleges that the social media giant gives its housing-related advertisers control over who sees their ads — leading to discrimination.

On Friday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it has filed a complaint against the rapidly growing
Menlo Park, California-based company.

According to HUD,
Facebook’s advertising platform enables landlords and home sellers to discriminate in their targeting of renters and home buyers — a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“Facebook enables advertisers to control which users receive housing-related ads based upon the recipient’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability and/or zip code,” HUD stated. “Facebook then invites advertisers to express unlawful preferences by offering discriminatory options, allowing them to effectively limit housing options for these protected classes under the guise of ‘targeted advertising.'”

HUD claims Facebook enables advertisers to display housing ads to only one gender and withhold ads from users seeking housing to accommodate assistance dogs, mobility scooters and accessibility or deaf culture.

Advertisers can also choose to hide ads from users interested in child care, a particular place of worship or in a particular zip code. They can additionally hide ads from users categorized as interested in a number of global regions including Latin America.

HUD said that the
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has filed a statement of interest in federal court on behalf of private litigants challenging Facebook’s advertising platform.

“Facebook markets its ad targeting platform as a useful tool for providers of housing-related services,” HUD’s complaint states. “For example, Facebook promotes its ad targeting platform with ‘success stories’ for finding ‘the perfect homeowners,’ ‘reaching home buyers,’ ‘attracting renters’ and ‘personalizing property ads.”

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