Facebook hit with lawsuit over alleged housing ad discrimination

Nonprofit alleges advertisers can discriminate against women, disabled people

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook vowed to end discrimination in housing ads on its network, but a new lawsuit alleges the company didn’t live up to its promise.

The National Fair Housing Alliance and other groups allege in their suit, filed in Manhattan federal court Tuesday, that the company “continues to enable landlords and real estate brokers to bar families with children, women and others from receiving rental and sales ads for housing.”

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In October 2016 ProPublica reported that Facebook allows companies who advertise real estate on its network to exclude ethnic minorities from seeing the ads. In response, Facebook said it would no longer allow advertisers to target housing ads using ethnic criteria, but ProPublica again found holes in the system.

The lawsuit alleges advertisers can still exclude women or disabled people, allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act. The plaintiffs created fake housing ads in New York and were able to exclude “moms of grade school kids” from viewing them while targeting “men,” the New York Times reported.

University of Kentucky law professor Robert Schwemm said Facebook is responsible for its targeted ads. “By allowing housing advertisers to click certain boxes in order to refine their ads and exclude certain protected groups, Facebook is more than just a neutral conveyor of information, like, say, a phone company, which is not liable for its customers’ discriminatory ads or statements,” he said. [NYT]Konrad Putzier