HUD sues Facebook for housing discrimination based on its narrow targeting

HUD sued Facebook for housing discrimination, arguing that allowing advertisers to target real estate ads based on race violates the Fair Housing Act.

March 29, 2019

Yesterday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sued Facebook for housing discrimination, arguing that allowing advertisers to target demographics based on race, religion, and national origin violates the Fair Housing Act.

It’s a big step forward that shows federal regulators are beginning to more closely monitor the downstream impacts of large tech platforms.

A specific kind of housing discrimination

”Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” said Ben Carson, HUD’s chief.

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s platform, which controls 20% of the online advertising market in the US, targets users more carelessly than other large platforms like Google and Twitter (both of which issued statements yesterday confirming they don’t use discriminatory ads).

The lawsuit doesn’t stop there: HUD’s complaint alleges Facebook’s system is so targeted that it often (illegally) focuses on 1 demographic group even when advertisers don’t ask for such narrow targeting.

Regulators are regaining ground 

Facebook responded with surprise to HUD’s heavy hammer strike.

“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,” a Facebook rep told Yahoo Finance.

Recently, Facebook scaled back advertisers’ targeting options for housing, credit, and jobs ads, and settled lawsuits with the National Fair Housing Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union.

But it turns out Facebook’s fiascoes are far from over: HUD said it plans to “use all resources at [its] disposal to protect Americans” from the dirty ’Book.

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