The Trump administration on Thursday charged social media giant Facebook with racially discriminatory housing practices, alleging that the company illegally targeted ads to consumers based on race and other factors.
As CNBC reports, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a civil complaint against the platform, saying that its ad policies have harmed African-Americans and other minority groups. The complaint states that the agency wants Facebook to compensate, monetarily, anyone who was “harmed” by Facebook’s discriminatory ad policies.
HUD director Ben Carson says that Facebook’s practices are equivalent to turning away a potential buyer or renter.
“Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”
What Facebook allegedly did wrong
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was intended to put an end to various practices, widespread at the time, that kept African-Americans and other minority groups from finding housing, as HUD notes on its website.
There were several ways in which such minorities could be shut out from housing. There was the real-estate industry practice of “redlining” – that is, not showing properties to minority groups. Banks would discriminate against minority buyers in lending. Or sellers or landlords would simply refuse to rent/sell to certain minorities.
With the advent of social media came a new way for sellers and landlords to exclude minorities, and it works like this: Facebook collects your user data — your age, race, familial status, hometown, and so on — and shares that with advertisers. The social media platform then allows advertisers to target their ads based on that demographic data.
The problem is that advertisers offering rentals or homes for sale have used that tool to exclude minorities, based on their race, age, sex, religion, familial status, etc. In some cases, the tool that Facebook offers allowed advertisers to draw a literal red line around areas where they didn’t want viewers to see the ads; HUD alleges that those “redlined” areas were minority neighborhoods.
All of that is illegal, according to HUD.
This is not the first time Facebook has been called to account for its discriminatory advertising practices, according to CNN Business. HUD initially filed a similar complaint against Facebook last August, and just last week, Facebook paid out about $5 million to settle lawsuits related to its alleged discriminatory housing practices.
In a statement, Facebook said it was “surprised” by HUD’s actions, stating that the company has been working to overhaul the advertising system that allowed the discriminatory advertising practices in the first place.