A lawsuit claims Facebook's filtering tools enable housing discrimination.
ENABLING DISCRIMINATION. Facebook is (once again) in the doghouse with the U.S. government. This time it's because of the company's advertising practices. Last week, Axios reported that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) filed a complaint against Facebook for enabling advertisers to discriminate against certain protected classes of people.
In 1968, the U.S. government passed the Fair Housing Act, a piece of legislation that makes it illegal for a landlord or seller to consider some information, such as a person's race, gender, or disability status, when deciding whether to rent or sell housing to that person.
If you have a Facebook account, Facebook already has a lot of personal information on you, including many of the characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act. The problem, as HUD sees it, is that Facebook allows advertisers to filter out who sees their ads based on those characteristics. For example, an advertiser can choose to only show their ads to men or people of a certain religion.
According to the HUD complaint, these discriminatory ads violate the Fair Housing Act.
WE'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE. This isn't the first time someone has accused Facebook of facilitating discriminatory advertising practices. In 2016, ProPublica criticized the social media platform for allowing advertisers to filter ads for housing and employment based on user ethnicity.
At the time, Facebook agreed to disable the "ethnic affinity" targeting for ads that involve housing, employment, or credit. But clearly, disabling that tool hasn't stopped the discrimination altogether, though a spokesperson told Axios that Facebook is working on it.
"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," the spokesperson told Axios. "We're aware of the statement of interest filed and will respond in court; and we’ll continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns."
WASHINGTON'S LEAD. It's impossible to guess how many people might have missed out on housing opportunities based on Facebook's ad filtering options. A lawsuit filed by civil rights groups earlier this year led Facebook to end the ability of advertisers in Washington state to filter ads by protected criteria, including sex, race, and disability status. Now that the issue is on the federal government's radar, we could see a nationwide revision of the system.
READ MORE: Housing Department Charges Facebook Ads Discriminate [Axios]
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