Facebook accused by HUD of housing bias over use of targeted ads

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development said it's charging Facebook with allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act by restricting who can view housing-related ads.

Facebook enables and encourages discrimination based on things like race and religion, as well as sex, by restricting who can see housing-related ads on its platforms and across the Internet, HUD said in a statement Thursday.

"Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live," HUD Secretary Ben Carson said. "Using a computer to limit a person's housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone's face."

The company allowed those advertising housing to exclude people it classified as parents; non-American-born; non-Christian; interested in accessibility and Hispanic culture; as well as other group's deemed protected classes, according to HUD.

A Facebook spokesman said in a statement Thursday that the company had been working to address many of the issues raised, citing a decision last year to eliminate targeting options that could be misused. Last week, the company reached agreements with the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union and others to change how housing and credit ads can be run on the platform.

"We're surprised by HUD's decision, as we've been working with them to address their concerns and have taken significant steps to prevent ads discrimination," Facebook said in the statement. "While we were eager to find a solution, HUD insisted on access to sensitive information — like user data — without adequate safeguards. We're disappointed by today's developments, but we'll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues."

Facebook fell sharply on the news and was down about 1 percent in pre-market trading Thursday.

Bloomberg News
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