HUD complaint accuses Facebook ads of violating Fair Housing Act

A new complaint filed Friday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) accuses Facebook of helping landlords and home sellers violate the Fair Housing Act. According to the grievance filed by the department, Facebook’s ad settings let sellers disregard laws by targeting specific demographics.

HUD says that the ability to tailor Facebook advertisements to bar individuals of a certain race, religion, sex, national origin and various other categories is a clear violation of the rule, which was enacted as part of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse,” Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Anna María Farías said in a statement issued by the department. “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.”

Facebook was quick to respond to the complaint. While it acknowledges that the technology leaves open the potential for misuse, it insists that it’s been working to undercut abuse.

“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies,” Facebook said in a statement offered to The Washington Post. “Over the past year we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse. We’re aware of the statement of interest filed and will respond in court; we’ll continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns.”

The complaint has been a long time coming, with the National Fair Housing Alliance and other housing groups having already taken Facebook to court over the issue earlier this year.