Just a week after adjusting its ad targeting options for housing and job advertisements, Facebook has been slapped with a charge from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that alleges it broke Fair Housing Act regulations.
The HUD’s lawsuit against Facebook alleges that its advertising platform doesn’t deliver housing ads fairly, and that it discriminates against certain people by not showing them certain ads, based on their race, family status, religious beliefs and disabilities.
In its charge sheet, the HUD says that “ads for housing and housing-related services are shown to large audiences that are severely biased on characteristics protected by the Act, such as audiences of tens of thousands of users that are nearly all men or nearly all women.”
The HUD’s charges follow a complaint from last summer that alleged similar violations of the Act. Facebook’s advertising platform, which is its main source of revenue, allows marketers to target specific kinds of users based on their interests and other information. Previously, Facebook allowed housing advertisers to target users based on their ages, genders and ZIP codes, but the company this week removed those options as part of a separate settlement with three other organizations. Facebook had previously removed options allowing marketers to target users based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion.
Facebook said in a statement that it was surprised by the HUD charges, and that it’s working with the organization to address its concerns. However, it said it was unable to provide the HUD with all of the information it had requested, as some of that info contains private user data.
“While we were eager to find a solution, HUD insisted on access to sensitive information — like user data — without adequate safeguards,” the social media giant said in a statement. “We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues.”
The HUD’s charge sheet singled out several specific ad targeting tools offered by Facebook as being illegitimate. These include a toggle to exclude men or women, a search tool that allows for excluding users who speak a specific language, and a map tool to narrow results by excluding locations.