Attorney Kathryn DavisThe U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has accused Facebook of enabling housing discrimination.  According to HUD, Facebook allows property owners and landlords to discriminate against prospective tenants and buyers on the basis of race, color, religion, familial status, national origin, disability or other factors.

Accusations Against Facebook

In its complaint, HUD alleges that Facebook allows advertisers to purposefully exclude certain people from seeing housing advertisements based on factors that violate the Fair Housing Act.  According to HUD’s complaint, Facebook enables advertisers to, among other things:

  • display housing ads either only to men or women;
  • not show ads to Facebook users interested in an “assistance dog,” “mobility scooter,” “accessibility” or “deaf culture”;
  • not show ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “child care” or “parenting,” or show ads only to users with children above a specified age;
  • to display/not display ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in a particular place of worship, religion or tenet, such as the “Christian Church,” “Sikhism,” “Hinduism,” or the “Bible.”
  • not show ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “Latin America,” “Canada,” “Southeast Asia,” “China,” “Honduras,” or “Somalia.”
  • draw a red line around zip codes and then not display ads to Facebook users who live in specific zip codes.

What’s the Next Step?

Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity said, “The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse.”  She went on the state, “When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it’s the same as slamming the door in someone’s face.”

The Secretary of HUD has the authority to file a fair housing complaint directly against any entity who the Department believes may be in violation of the Fair Housing Act.  The complaint will result in a formal investigation, where Facebook will have notice and opportunity to respond.  In addition to the complaint file against Facebook by HUD, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a statement of interest, joined by HUD, in the U.S. District Court on behalf of several private litigants challenging Facebook’s advertising platform.

It will be interesting to see how this situation resolves.  Different circumstances bring clients through our doors, and it is always encouraging to see investigations into any practices which may serve to further marginalize some of the good people we see daily.  If your personal financial situation has brought you to a place where you need help navigating yourself out, please contact one of our offices today for a free bankruptcy consultation.

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