HUD Charges Facebook with Housing Discrimination, Official Word From D.C., Secretary Carson



The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has made headlines by charging Facebook with housing discrimination.

Here is a video interview that touches on that topic and another.



Then there is the official statement from HUD, which follows.


HUD Charges Facebook With Housing Discrimination Over Targeted Advertising Practices

Charge Claims Facebook’s Advertising Platform Violates Fair Housing Act


BACKGROUND: Today, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson announced that HUD is charging Facebook, the nation’s second largest advertiser, for violating the Fair Housing Act by encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination through the company’s advertising platform. Clickhere to read the Charge.

THE CHARGE: Today’s Charge is a result of HUD’s investigation of a Secretary-initiated complaint filed on August 13, 2018alleging that Facebook unlawfully discriminates against its users by restricting housing-related ads based upon their race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disability.

  • Facebook continues to use protected characteristics to decide which users see housing-related ads.
  • Facebook also continues to exclude users who share protected characteristics from seeing housing-related ads.
  • For years, Facebook has offered housing-related advertisers discriminatory options that they could use to exclude users from seeing ads based on their protected class and has not appropriately addressed the harm caused.  Further, Facebook continues to operate an ad delivery system that excludes users of protected class groups from seeing housing-related ads.


IN ADDITION: HUD charges that Facebook enabled advertisers to exclude people based on neighborhood by drawing a red line around those neighborhoods on a map and also gave advertisers the option of showing ads only to men or only to women.

DATA MINING & ADVERTISER OFFERINGS: Facebook collects data about user behavior on and off its platforms and offered advertisers numerous options for excluding users based on their protected class.

  • This data includes which pages a user visits, which apps a user downloads, where a user goes during the day, and the purchases a user makes on and offline.
  • Facebook uses this data to group and classify users by their demographics, interests and behaviors.
  • Facebook also uses this data to decide which users it predicts are most likely to be respond to an ad, and then determines which users will see which ads based on those predictions.
  • Facebook offered advertisers numerous options for excluding users based on their protected class.
  • Facebook offered the options to exclude users because, for example, they are parents, are from certain countries, are not Christian, or are interested in accessibility, Hispanic culture, or other interests closely linked to protected characteristics.
  • The Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) does not shield Facebook from liability for these violations.
    • The CDA immunizes website operators against liability arising from content created by third parties.
    • Facebook offers advertisers discriminatory options that induce them to make discriminatory choices, and these options are made possible because of the extensive data about user characteristics that Facebook collects.
    • Also, Facebook alone decides which users will actually see which ads, regardless of what (if any) targeting choices an advertiser makes.


WHAT COMES NEXT: HUD’s Charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the Charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages for harm caused by the discrimination.  The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines to vindicate the public interest.  If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages.

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