US department charges Facebook with housing ad bias

Friday, 29 March 2019, 03:45 Hrs
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US department charges Facebook with housing ad bias

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Thursday charged Facebook with housing discrimination, saying the social media giant encouraged and caused housing discrimination through ad targeting.

"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," HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement.

According to a report in The Verge, the charges were based on a complaint filed in August.

The department accused Facebook of allowing advertisers to exclude certain people from seeing ads, including parents, people born outside the US, non-Christians and those interested in Hispanic culture or accessibility matters. 

A Facebook representative was quoted as saying they were surprised by HUD's decision. "We've been working with them to address the concerns and have taken significant steps to prevent ads discrimination," the spokesperson told The Verge.

In a blog post on March 19, Facebook announced new changes where anyone who wants to run such ads will no longer be allowed to target by age, gender or zip code.

These changes were the result of settlement agreements with leading civil rights organisations and ongoing input from civil rights experts, said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Last year, the US National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and other private parties, filed litigation against Facebook, saying it needs to build stronger protections against abuse.

"Our policies prohibit advertisers from using our tools to discriminate. We've removed thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. But we can do better," said Sandberg.

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