U.S. Government Files Discrimination Lawsuit Against Facebook

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this morning filed a lawsuit against Facebook, claiming that the company engages in advertising practices that facilitate housing discrimination based on racial, ethnic and religious differences.

In particular, HUD claims that Facebook’s granular, targeted advertisements let housing sellers filter out demographic groups in a way that violates federal laws barring housing discrimination.

The discriminatory ads were first uncovered and reported on by the nonprofit group ProPublica. The group’s president, Richard Tofel tweeted more information about how the HUD lawsuit came about:

How Facebook’s racially discriminatory housing ads were challenged: first ⁦@ProPublica⁩ reporting, then suit by advocates charted in this story, then DOJ move noted in update, followed by HUD investigation and now today’s charges. Classic impact.

“Because of the way Facebook designed its advertising platform, ads for housing and housing-related services are shown to large audiences that are severely biased based on characteristics protected by the Act, such as audiences of tens of thousands of users that are nearly all men or nearly all women,” the lawsuit states.

The HUD lawsuit then documents some of the demographics filtering options that it says lets sellers illegally discriminate.

“Facebook has offered advertisers hundreds of thousands of attributes from which to choose, for example to exclude ‘women in the workforce,’ ‘moms of grade school kids,’ ‘foreigners,’ ‘Puerto Rico Islanders,’ or people interested in ‘parenting,’ ‘accessibility,’ ‘service animal,’ ‘Hijab Fashion,’ or ‘Hispanic Culture,’” the suit claims.

Facebook Did Not Keep Its Promises

ProPublica’s website reported on a previous lawsuit, brought by fair housing advocates one year ago.

That article says:

In February 2017, in response to a ProPublica investigation, Facebook pledged to crack down on efforts by advertisers of rental housing to discriminate against tenants based on race, disability, gender and other characteristics.”

But despite Facebook’s promises, nothing changed. It alleged that Facebook “still allows advertisers to discriminate against legally protected groups, including mothers, the disabled and Spanish-language speakers.”

And now, thanks to the efforts of housing advocates and ProPublica, the U.S. government has gotten involved. Hopefully Facebook will finally be forced to forego some of its precious advertising revenue and comply with the laws of the United States.

CLICK HERE to read the full HUD complaint.