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HUD still pursuing Facebook for allowing housing discrimination despite ad changes

HUD complaint still outstanding

Facebook may have announced massive changes to its advertising practices surrounding housing, lending, and employment ads, but that doesn’t mean that the government is done pursuing its claims that the social media giant enabled housing discrimination with its previous ad policies.

Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development took action against Facebook, claiming that the site’s advertising platform allowed property owners to discriminate against prospective renters and buyers based on their race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability, or other factors, all of which are protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.

According to HUD’s complaint, Facebook’s advertising platform allowed advertisers to violate the Fair Housing Act in several ways, including displaying housing ads either only to men or women; not showing ads to users interested in an “assistance dog,” “mobility scooter,” “accessibility” or “deaf culture;” not showing ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “child care” or “parenting.”

After HUD filed its complaint against Facebook, the site announced that it was removing more than 5,000 ad target options to “help prevent misuse.”

But before Facebook announced those changes, several fair housing and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Facebook, claiming that the site still allowed ads to discriminate against protected groups, including women, veterans with disabilities and single mothers.

That lawsuit led to a settlement announced Tuesday. As part of that settlement, Facebook announced that it would be making significant changes to the way it handles ads for housing, lending, and employment.

One of the new policies prohibits advertisers from targeting housing, employment, or credit ads by age, gender or zip code.

Despite those changes, HUD is not giving up its pursuit of Facebook.

A HUD spokesperson told HousingWire Wednesday that the agency’s complaint against Facebook is still outstanding, adding that the agency is in discussion with Facebook about the issues at the core of the complaint.

HUD’s complaint is a “Secretary-Initiated Complaint,” which are fair housing complaints filed directly against those whom HUD believes may be in violation of the Fair Housing Act. HUD noted at the time that the complaint was not a determination of liability.    

According to HUD, a formal fact-finding investigation was to commence after the complaint was filed. From there, Facebook was to be given an opportunity to respond to the complaint, but HUD noted that it may still file a formal discrimination charge at a later date.

And as of now, that possibility still exists.

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