Federal regulators allege that Facebook’s advertising tools allow homeowners and real estate brokers to discriminate in housing. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development said this week in an administrative complaint that Facebook had broken the Fair Housing Act because its targeting systems allowed advertisers to prevent certain audiences, such as families
“When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data collected to help advertisers discriminate, it is like slamming the door on someone,” said HUD Assistant Secretary Anna María Farias on Friday.
Service providers such as Facebook are generally not responsible for the actions of their users. In another suit filed by housing advocates, the Justice Department says Facebook does not fall into this category because it extracts user data, some of which must be provided by users, and customizes specific advertisements. The government says it counts as a content creator, rather than just a simple user content transmitter.
Facebook said that the company does not allow discrimination and has strengthened its systems over the past year to prevent abuse. The company added that she was working directly with HUD to address her concerns. Facebook has the opportunity to respond to HUD’s complaint before the agency decides to lay formal charges.
The HUD’s action is distinct from the federal lawsuit filed in March in New York by the National Fair Housing Alliance and other organizations. The lawsuit indicates that investigations by fair housing supporters in New York, Washington, Miami and San Antonio, Texas, show that Facebook continues to discriminate against advertisers while advocacy groups and Housing Fair Housing Act. She seeks unspecified damages and a court order to end the discrimination. The position of the Department of Justice was tabled in this case. Facebook has announced its intention to respond in court.