The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is suing social media giant Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) over selling targeted advertising that violated the U.S. Fair Housing Act. Under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to publish housing ads that discriminate against people based on race, religion, familial status, disability, and other characteristics. In a statement on the matter, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said, “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live.”
Housing Department officials said evidence of discrimination on Facebook’s platforms compelled them to move forward with the charges. In the charging document, HUD accuses Facebook of enabling advertisers to exclude people in ways that that closely align with the Fair Housing Act’s protected classes, including national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disability. It also said advertisers could exclude people based on ZIP code.
The move by HUD comes a week after the social media giant agreed to settle multiple lawsuits filed by U.S. civil rights groups over alleged discrimination in advertising. The settlement included a payment of just under $5 million, along with an overhaul to its paid advertising platform. Part of the overhaul will be creating a new advertising portal for housing and employment ads that would limit targeting options for advertisers. Another part will be enabling users to search all current housing ads listed in the United States, despite any targeting by advertisers.
Facebook has been facing housing discrimination allegations for years. A report by ProPublica uncovered that advertisers had been able to target ads through Facebook in a discriminatory fashion as far back as 2016. ProPublica later reported purchasing discriminatory housing ads and getting them past Facebook’s review process, despite the company’s claims to the contrary. Facebook has said since then that it has taken “significant steps” to prevent ads that discriminate on its platforms.