US HUD is charging Facebook with housing discrimination

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has charged Facebook with “encouraging, enabling, and causing” housing discrimination against users through its advertising platform, which is a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act.

According to HUD, the social media site has been restricting which users are able to see housing-related ads, based on their race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disabilities. Additionally, HUD has accused Facebook of collecting “extensive” user information and using that data to decide who gets to view certain categories of housing ads.

“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” said HUD secretary Ben Carson. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and in housing-related services, including online advertisements, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

HUD said specifically, Facebook has allowed advertisers to exclude Facebook members labeled as parents; non-American-born; non-Christian; interested in accessibility; interested in Hispanic culture; and other factors that violate the Fair Housing Act.

HUD general counsel Paul Compton said: “Even as we confront new technologies, the fair housing laws enacted over half a century ago remain clear—discrimination in housing-related advertising is against the law. Just because a process to deliver advertising is opaque and complex doesn’t mean that it exempts Facebook and others from our scrutiny and the law of the land. Fashioning appropriate remedies and the rules of the road for today’s technology as it impacts housing are a priority for HUD.”