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HUD hits Facebook with housing discrimination complaint

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is accusing Facebook of violating the Fair Housing Act....

Posted: Aug 18, 2018 4:30 PM
Updated: Aug 18, 2018 4:30 PM

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is accusing Facebook of violating the Fair Housing Act.

The agency filed a formal complaint against the social media company on Friday, alleging that it allows landlords and home sellers to use targeted Facebook ads to discriminate against potential buyers or tenants on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability and other characteristics.

"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," Anna María Farías, assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a statement.

Facebook responded to the allegation with a statement insisting that "there is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it's strictly prohibited in our policies. Over the past year we've strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse... and we'll continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns."

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits home rental and sale advertisements from discriminating "based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin."

In its complaint, the federal housing agency outlined several ways landlords or sellers can use Facebook ads to do just that. They could, for example, decide to show the ads to only men, or ensure that their ads don't appear in the feeds of anyone with "accessibility" listed as an interest.

The National Fair Housing Alliance made the same argument in a federal lawsuit against the social media company. The case, filed in March in New York City, claims that Facebook's advertising tools continue to allow marketers to exclude women and families with children from seeing certain housing ads.

Diane L. Houk, one of the attorneys who filed that suit, called Friday's complaint "a very important step by HUD to enforce the Fair Housing Act."

HUD and the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York also filed documents bolstering the suit brought by the housing advocates. In a statement of interest filed with the court, they rejected Facebook's argument that it is protected from the federal housing law by the Communications Decency Act, which limits the liability of website operators.

The government argued that Facebook should in this case be classified as an internet content provider and is therefore subject to the Fair Housing Act.

Facebook said it "will respond in court" to the statement of interest.

Some of the details outlined in the HUD complaint, such as accusations of exclusion based on religion or an interest in "deaf culture" do not appear in the lawsuit filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Houk said it is "very troubling to see that these categories are still available," especially "given the amount of public statements and coverage ... over the last two years."

According to the HUD complaint, the alleged violations occurred as recently as last month. But Facebook has faced such accusations since 2016, when ProPublica reported posting an ad for a housing event that it requested not be shown to anyone with what Facebook's ad tool calls an "ethnic affinity" of African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic.

"Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement at the time. "We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies."

ProPublica said last year that it was able to buy dozens of home rental advertisements targeted toward audiences that specifically excluded "African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers."

— CNN's Seth Fiegerman contributed to this report.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 727764

Reported Deaths: 13397
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion995211738
Lake53461965
Allen40457675
St. Joseph35506550
Hamilton35489408
Elkhart28433441
Tippecanoe22359218
Vanderburgh22284396
Porter18668307
Johnson17905377
Hendricks17180315
Clark12930191
Madison12592339
Vigo12431246
Monroe11858170
LaPorte11821210
Delaware10648185
Howard9865216
Kosciusko9378117
Hancock8251140
Bartholomew8052155
Warrick7771155
Floyd7649177
Grant7027174
Wayne7026199
Boone6679101
Morgan6555139
Dubois6150117
Marshall6005111
Dearborn579277
Cass5788105
Henry5688103
Noble558883
Jackson500872
Shelby490296
Lawrence4505120
Harrison434772
Gibson434692
Clinton427053
DeKalb426484
Montgomery423588
Whitley394739
Huntington389080
Steuben383857
Miami380666
Knox371890
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Jefferson328881
White313254
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Greene277385
Posey271033
Scott265453
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Clay259146
Washington240032
Randolph239781
Spencer232031
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Starke215453
Fountain212046
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Parke145916
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Pike133234
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Newton107234
Brown101641
Crawford99314
Benton98414
Martin88315
Warren81715
Switzerland7848
Union70810
Ohio56411
Unassigned0414

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 1081518

Reported Deaths: 19428
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1256551400
Cuyahoga1117782115
Hamilton798901205
Montgomery513291014
Summit47080945
Lucas42049788
Butler38301584
Stark32242906
Lorain24958481
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Mahoning21511588
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Delaware18503133
Licking16410212
Fairfield16160199
Trumbull16019468
Medina15247264
Greene15043244
Clark13970299
Wood13065189
Portage12825203
Allen11626232
Richland11323199
Miami10661217
Muskingum8799133
Wayne8784211
Columbiana8766229
Pickaway8551121
Marion8514135
Tuscarawas8470244
Erie7871154
Hancock6906127
Ross6842155
Ashtabula6792170
Geauga6677148
Scioto6405101
Belmont5873167
Union570348
Lawrence5546102
Jefferson5521151
Huron5427119
Darke5347123
Sandusky5337120
Seneca5275121
Athens518858
Washington5153109
Auglaize489584
Mercer480385
Shelby468893
Knox4483110
Madison435561
Putnam4278100
Fulton421669
Ashland421489
Defiance419297
Crawford3970107
Brown393857
Logan381576
Preble379398
Clinton371263
Ottawa366679
Highland354662
Williams338575
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Guernsey315653
Jackson312151
Perry294850
Morrow284639
Fayette281550
Hardin270664
Henry268466
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Holmes2593101
Van Wert243363
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Pike237534
Gallia235349
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Hocking215262
Carroll191247
Paulding172540
Meigs144740
Noble133337
Monroe132042
Morgan108323
Harrison107637
Vinton82815
Unassigned02
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