HUD Charges Facebook with Violating Fair Housing Law
HUD recently announced charges against Facebook for violating fair housing law by encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination through the company’s advertising platform. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against consumers based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin. The Fair Housing Act also makes it illegal to “make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement” that would limit housing options for protected groups. According to HUD’s charges, Facebook enabled advertisers to exclude people based on interests that closely align with the Fair Housing Act’s protected classes and based upon their neighborhood.
HUD first began investigating Facebook’s housing practices in late 2016 after a report revealed Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude users based on race and other protected classes. The National Fair Housing Alliance (NHFA) and a group of fair housing organizations also subsequently filed a lawsuit against Facebook, which was settled on March 2019. Facebook agreed to enact sweeping reforms to its ad-targeting system as part of the settlement.
According to a statement issued by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, the company will no longer allow housing, employment, or credit ads to target an audience based on ZIP code, age, or gender. Now, advertisers offering housing will have a much smaller set of targeting categories to use in their campaigns overall. Multicultural affinity targeting will continue to be unavailable for these ads. Additionally, any detailed targeting option describing or appearing to relate to protected classes will also be unavailable. Facebook will also build a tool so renters can search for and view all current housing ads in the U.S. targeted to different places across the country, regardless of whether the ads are shown to them.