The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking aim at Facebook, claiming the social networking website enables landlords and homeowners to discriminate against users.
HUD filed a complaint against Facebook on Friday, alleging that the social platform’s housing ads violate the Fair Housing Act. A major selling point of Facebook’s ads has been its ability to target specific users. That feature, however, allows landlords and others to exclude specific users from seeing the ads, according to the complaint.
HUD alleges that advertisers on Facebook can filter out viewers by race, gender, religion, familial status, disability and other qualities. For example, advertisers can avoid users who’ve indicated on Facebook an interest in “assistance dog,” “accessibility,” “deaf culture,” and “mobility scooter,” according to the complaint.
“The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse,” Anna María Farías, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said 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.”
Back in March, fair housing groups filed a lawsuit in New York Federal Court with similar allegations against Facebook. Last year, following a report by ProPublica, the site pledged to take steps to prevent discriminatory ads.
“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,” a spokesperson for Facebook said in a statement. “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.”