HUD: Facebook’s Ad Platform Is Discriminatory

August 20, 2018

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is accusing Facebook of violating the federal Fair Housing Act and allowing landlords and home sellers to use the social network’s advertising platform to engage in housing discrimination. A Facebook tool enabling advertisers to filter which users see housing-related ads based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability, or ZIP code limits housing options for protected classes under the law, HUD says.

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“The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination, including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse,” Anna María Farías, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a statement. “When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it’s the same as slamming the door in someone’s face.”

Facebook has denied wrongdoing and issued a statement in response to HUD’s complaint: “There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies. Over the past year, we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse, and we’ll continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns.”

HUD alleges that Facebook allows advertisers to:

  • Display housing ads either only to men or only to women.
  • Not show ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in assistance dogs, mobility scooters, accessibility, or deaf culture.
  • Not show ads to users interested in child care or parenting, or show ads only to users with children above a specified age.
  • Not show ads to users interested in a particular place of worship, religion, or tenet, such as the Christian church, Sikhism, Hinduism, or the Bible.
  • Not show ads to users interested in Latin America, Canada, Southeast Asia, China, Honduras, or Somalia.
  • Draw a red line around ZIP codes and not show ads to users who live in those areas.