Agency You Might Not Expect Goes After Facebook

Housing and Urban Development accuses company of aiding housing discrimination
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2019 10:35 AM CDT
Agency You Might Not Expect Goes After Facebook
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2018.   (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The feds are going after Facebook, but the agency involved might not be the first that would come to mind: the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As the Hill explains, Ben Carson's HUD has filed charges leveling the serious accusation that the company is violating the Fair Housing Act through its advertising practices. Details:

  • The big quote: "Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live," says Carson in a statement. "Using a computer to limit a person's housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone's face."
  • The main allegation: HUD says Facebook's ad-targeting ability lets advertisers prevent people of certain races or faiths from seeing ads, reports the Verge.
  • 'Red line': A key line from the complaint: Facebook "has provided a toggle button that enables advertisers to exclude men or women from seeing an ad, a search-box to exclude people who do not speak a specific language from seeing an ad, and a map tool to exclude people who live in a specified area from seeing an ad by drawing a red line around that area."

  • Protected classes: HUD says Facebook is able to group people into certain categories such as non-Christian, non-American-born, those interested in Hispanic activities, etc., and then allows advertisers to exclude them. Some of the groups excluded are seen as protected classes under the FHA, reports the AP.
  • Facebook's response: The company says it's "surprised" by the charges because it's been working on the issue. Most recently, it agreed this month to change the ad-targeting system in a settlement with civil rights groups, including the ACLU. Among other things, advertisers won't be able to exclude viewers based on ZIP codes. Separate talks with HUD apparently faltered because the agency "insisted on access to sensitive information—like user data—without adequate safeguards," says the company.
  • First trouble: Potential abuses in Facebook's "ethnic affinities tool" first surfaced in a 2016 investigation by ProPublica. Facebook promised reform. A year later, a ProPublica follow-up found that little had changed.
(The company is making it harder for supporters of white nationalism to find each other online.)

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