HUD Accuses Facebook Of Enabling Housing Bias With Targeted Ads

Written by Ann Brown
HOLD FOR STORY BY KAREN MATTHEWS–Lynne Patton, second from right, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator for NY&NJ, and Robert Madison, center, associate director of community organization Jacob Riis Settlement, tour Queensbridge Houses residencies, Wednesday March 6, 2019, in New York. Patton has been doing sleepovers in New York City public housing apartments, to view problems first-hand and hear complaints from tenants. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Facebook recently announced it is going to do away with targeted ads after facing lawsuits from the ACLU and the National Fair Housing Alliance over discrimination in housing and employment.

Now the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has also accused Facebook of enabling and encouraging discrimination based on race, religion, and sex, by restricting who can see housing-related ads on its platforms. HUD has also sent letters to Twitter and Google seeking information on their the advertising systems, according to Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesman.

U.S. regulators claim Facebook’s digital advertising practices violate housing law.

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“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.”

HUD said Facebook permitted 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.

“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,” Bloomberg reported.

“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.”

A U.S. administrative law judge will hear HUD’s accusation unless an agreement is made.