HUD Sec Carson accuses Facebook of enabling housing discrimination

Coverage Type: 

Housing Sec Ben Carson accused Facebook of enabling illegal housing discrimination by giving landlords and developers advertising tools that made it easy to exclude people based on race, gender, zip code or religion -- or whether a potential renter has young children at home or a personal disability. The action, which comes after nearly two years of preliminary investigation, amounts to a formal legal complaint against the company and starts a process that could culminate in a federal lawsuit against Facebook. It stands accused of creating advertising targeting tools -- which classified people according to interests such as “English as Second Language” or “Disabled Parking Permit” -- that resulted in violations of the Federal Housing Act.

The move by the Department of Housing and Urban Development came on the same day that the Justice Department also targeted Facebook on similar issues. In that action, the government took the side of several fair-housing groups in opposing Facebook’s efforts to have a discrimination lawsuit dismissed, arguing that Facebook can be held liable when its ad-targeting tools allow advertisers to unfairly deprive some categories of people of housing offers. Taken together, the moves mark an escalation of federal scrutiny of how Facebook’s tools may create illegal forms of discrimination, allegations that also are central to separate lawsuits regarding the access to credit and employment opportunities, which, like housing, are subject to federal legal protection. The federal action also suggests limits on the reach of a key federal law, the Communications Decency Act, that long has been interpreted as offering technology companies broad immunity against many types of legal claims related to online content.

HUD Sec Carson accuses Facebook of enabling housing discrimination U.S. regulators target Facebook, allege discriminatory housing ads (AP)