Facebook Accused of Furthering Housing Discrimination

Tyra Hilliard
Staff Writer

News_Tyra_Facebook_Spencer E Holtaway, Flickr

PC: MaryKent Wolff

Following a complaint on August, 19, 2018, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson has accused Facebook of participating in housing discrimination.

Through thorough research, the HUD pointed out that the social media platform permits landlords and home sellers access to advertising filters that restrict who can view the online listing.
Some of those filters include race, religion, sex, disability, and other classifying factors. Basing access to listings off of these factors is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, in a press release.
“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.”

Facebook allowed advertisers to discriminate based on the extent of disabilities. This, in turn, blocked Facebook users who had shown interests in pages included things such as “mobility scooters” or “deaf culture” from even viewing the ad.

In addition, the social media site comparably allows for discrimination based on familial status by not showing ads to those who were labeled as being interested in “child care” or “parenting.”

The location of the account holder could also be used as an ad blocking supplement.

Facebook has yet to responded to the complaint and announced its intention to do so in court. A spokesperson released a small statement that the company will work with the HUD and address any concerns that were brought forth.

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest on the same Friday as the HUD, joining forces with housing advocates in declaring that Facebook’s advertising platform are violating the grounds of fair housing laws.

This merging allows a previous lawsuit, filed in March by the National Fair Housing Alliance and three other housing advocacy groups, to continue in their case. The group feels very confident about the turnout of the lawsuits, as this year represents the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.

Facebook was originally in the works of having the lawsuit filed in March dismissed by standing its ground on the fact that the site is just an “interactive computer service”.

In the March filing, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, called that a “faulty premise.”

“The categorizing of Facebook users based on protected characteristics, and the mechanism that Facebook offers advertisers to target those segments of the potential audience, violate the FHA [Fair Housing Act],” said Berman. “Facebook’s motion should therefore be denied.”

For Facebook, the count of cases addressing housing discrimination is now two and the count of cases referencing the protection of user data is now three in total. A court date to satisfy all pending cases is still in the works.

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