The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this morning hit Facebook with charges of housing discrimination. The filing states that the online giant has violated the Fair Housing Act through its ad-targeting tools, which allow sellers to limit listings based on categories like race, sex and nation of origin.
The charges are the result of an investigation initiated in August of last year, investigating a formal complaint that homesellers and landlords can target ads across a broad range of different categories.
“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement tied to the news. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”
In a statement offered to TechCrunch Facebook said it was “surprised” by the decision. A spokesperson for the company went on to discuss “significant steps” taken to address the discrimination detailed in HUD’s filing.
“Last year we eliminated thousands of targeting options that could potentially be misused, and just last week we reached historic agreements with the National Fair Housing Alliance, ACLU, and others that change the way housing, credit, and employment ads can be run on Facebook,” the company says. “While we were eager to find a solution, HUD insisted on access to sensitive information – like user data – without adequate safeguards. We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues.”
Last week, the social network avoided legal woes by reaching an agreement with the ACLU, Outten & Golden LLP and the Communications Workers of America. The deal is designed to help adhere to section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with Facebook removing gender, age and race-based targeting from housing and employment ads and creating a new one-stop portal for listings.