Facebook has found itself in legal hot water with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for allegedly giving users’ personal data to advertisers, enabling them to place discriminatory ads on the platform.
HUD filed a lawsuit Thursday that accused the social media giant of violating the Fair Housing Act, which protects African-Americans and other groups from housing discrimination.
Facebook is far from alone in being accused of collecting personal data on users’ characteristics, such as race and sexual preference, and selling that information to advertisers. The social media giant and other tech companies give advertisers the ability to target or exclude people online based on their race and other characteristics.
In Facebook’s case, the allegation is that landlords and people selling homes used the company’s data to make sure their ads did not appear in the feeds of Black people and others whom they wanted to exclude, according to CNN.
“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live. Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” Carson said in a statement Thursday morning.
Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has spearheaded a legislative effort to stop tech giants like Facebook and Google, as well as the many data mining companies, from enabling discriminatory advertising, the Verge reported.
She introduced a bill in February called the DATA Privacy Act that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to police discriminatory behavior in targeted ads.
ProPublica reported in 2016 that Facebook was allowing advertisers to exclude users based on their race. Facebook said it fixed the problem after the article brought awareness to the issue. However, ProPublica later discovered that Facebook continued the practice.
Facebook announced last week that it would pay about $5 million to settle several lawsuits over allowing discrimination in housing, employment and credit card ads on its platform. So the company was reportedly surprised when HUD filed the lawsuit because it was cooperating with the department to address the problem.
It’s apparently no easy task to stop Facebook, and presumably others, from ending discriminatory advertising. Lawmakers have been pressuring Facebook for nearly a year.
“The practice of discriminatory ad targeting is particularly nefarious because Facebook users cannot meaningfully control which ads they see; thus, discriminatory practices may go undetected,” Cortez Masto and several other senators said in a 2018 letter to Facebook. “Barring advertisers from tailoring their ads to discriminate against users on the basis of their protected characteristics is a necessary step.”