HUD alleges that Facebook is allowing Fair Housing advertising

Facebook is under investigation for allegedly enabling housing discrimination. According to a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), certain features in Facebook’s advertising platform enable landlords and home sellers to filter prospective renters and buyers by race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability and/or zip code.
HUD says these features enable landlords and sellers to violate the Fair Housing Act. The complaint further alleges that Facebook 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.” More specifically, the advertising platform, HUD says, enables landlords and sellers to do the following things:

  • Display housing ads either only to men or women; not show ads to Facebook users interested in an “assistance dog,” “mobility scooter,” “accessibility” or “deaf culture;”Not show ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “child care” or “parenting,” or show ads only to users with children above a specified age;
  • To display/not display ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as 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 whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “Latin America,” “Canada,” “Southeast Asia,” “China,” “Honduras,” or “Somalia;” and
  • Draw a red line around zip codes and then not display ads to Facebook users who live in specific zip codes.

Additionally, Facebook promotes its advertising targeting platform for housing purposes with “success stories” for finding “the perfect homeowners,” “reaching home buyers,” “attracting renters” and “personalizing property ads.”

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse,” says Anna María Farías, assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity for HUD, 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.”

In addition the HUD complaint, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) filed a statement of interest, joined in by HUD, in U.S. District Court on behalf of a number of private litigants challenging Facebook’s advertising platform.