Wealth Advisor Rockville, MD

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is suing Facebook over alleged “discrimination” in its advertising practices for housing. On HUD’s official website, the department is charging the social media powerhouse for its targeting advertising, which has recently had a massive overhaul.

On March 28, the (HUD) filed a civil complaint seeking damages for anyone harmed by Facebook’s targeted advertising policies, which until recently allowed employers and landlords to limit on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender.

Last week, Facebook settled a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the now-changed practice.

HUD’s charge is that Facebook allowed its advertisers to exclude a variety of groups of people, including parents, non-American-born people, non-Christian people, people interested in accessibility, people interested in Hispanic culture and others with a variety of other interests align with the Fair Housing Act’s protected classes. HUD is also charging that Facebook enabled advertisers to exclude people based upon their neighborhood by drawing a red line around those neighborhoods on a map. Facebook also allegedly gave advertisers the option of showing ads only to men or only to women.

According to HUD’s official statement, the action follows its investigation of HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s initiated complaint, which was filed on August 13, 2018. HUD alleges, “Facebook unlawfully discriminates based on race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex, and disability by restricting who can view housing-related ads on Facebook’s platforms and across the internet. Further, HUD claims Facebook mines extensive data about its users and then uses those data to determine which of its users view housing-related ads based, in part, on these protected characteristics.”

Carson said, “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live. Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

The Fair Housing Act is intended to protect people who are renting or buying a home by prohibiting discrimination in housing and in housing-related services, including online advertisements, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

HUD General Counsel Paul Compton in the government department’s statement, “Even as we confront new technologies, the fair housing laws enacted over half a century ago remain clear—discrimination in housing-related advertising is against the law. Just because a process to deliver advertising is opaque and complex doesn’t mean that it exempts Facebook and others from our scrutiny and the law of the land. Fashioning appropriate remedies and the rules of the road for today’s technology as it impacts housing are a priority for HUD.”

According to CNBC, HUD is asking for unspecified monetary damages and “the maximum civil penalty” against Facebook for each violation of housing laws.

HUD’s charge will be heard by the United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party elects to have the case heard in federal district court.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company is surprised by HUD’s filing, adding, “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.”

Last week, Facebook published a blog in which it explained that its advertising overhaul was an important step for the platform and also thanked the civil rights organizations that have led to the improved ad tools.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads.”

She added, “Our policies already prohibit advertisers from using our tools to discriminate. We’ve removed thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. But we can do better.”

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Wealth Advisor Rockville, MD