Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development detailed in an administrative complaint that Facebook is violating the “Fair Housing Act” due to its targeting systems which allow advertisers to exclude certain audiences – such as disabled people or families with young children – from seeing housing ads.
Notably, the complaint goes against the core of Facebook’s business model, which offers advertisers the ability to “micro-target” their ads to different audiences.
In their complaint, the Housing and Urban Development Department said:
Facebook mines extensive user data and classifies its users based on protected characteristics. Facebook’s ad targeting tools then invite advertisers to express unlawful preferences by suggesting discriminatory options.
Among the options advertisers were able to tailor their ads to included those with physical disabilities, parents with children, and even religious preferences.
“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,” HUD Assistant Secretary Anna Maria Farias said on Friday.
The HUD also alleged that Facebook allowed advertisers to discriminate by race by “drawing a red line around majority-minority zip codes and not showing ads to users who live in those zip codes”
Previously Facebook has said that it would address options that allowed advertisers to target certain groups and said the company would fight lawsuits alleging it allowed discrimination.
A Facebook spokesman told ABC News:
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. We’re aware of the statement of interest filed and will respond in court; and we’ll continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns.
Although Facebook insisted it enacted safeguards to disallow advertisers from selecting ads based on race or ethnicity, the government began an investigation in 2016 after learning that Facebook allowed those running ads to be target users based on supposedly protected categories.