April 15, 2019

HUD Charges Facebook for Violating Fair Housing Law

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On March 28, HUD 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 Charge, 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’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act. FHEO intakes reports of discrimination, and the government may also bring a Fair Housing Act or other civil rights case based on the findings of a HUD investigation. HUD first began investigating Facebook’s housing practices in late 2016, following a ProPublica investigation that 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 19, 2019. Facebook agreed to enact sweeping reforms to its ad-targeting system as part of the settlement. According to a statement, Facebook will no longer allow housing, employment, or credit ads to target an audience based on their ZIP code, age, or gender. 

Enterprise supports efforts to eliminate housing discrimination and to promote opportunity in housing. While technology and data can be used to help promote opportunity, it is important that the Fair Housing Act is upheld in these new and evolving spaces. 

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