The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, has officially launched an investigation into Facebook, as reported by Conservative Tribune. HUD has claimed that the social media network has discriminated in housing advertisement practices.
Facebook was under investigation in the past for the same kind of issue, however, the investigation was halted for 5 months, as reported by Gizmodo.
General Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs of HUD, Jeroen Brown, made the announcement that
“Secretary Carson has directed HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to re-open its investigation into Facebook’s advertising practices,” Brown explained to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “Since our initial investigation, we have learned more about these practices that warrant a deeper level of scrutiny. At this point, we are resuming an investigation and have made no findings in this matter.”
The main problem is the way that Facebook keeps information on users. Reports of the social media company allowing advertisers to exclude certain users by a category labeled “Ethnic Affinities” dates back to 2016. Ethnic Affinities excludes tenants based on race.“Facebook provided realtors, for example, with ad-targeting options that allowing them to “narrow” their ads to excluded, among others, black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans,” Gizmodo reported. “The ad-targeting mechanism may have also allowed realtors — or homeowners looking to rent out or sell their own properties — to exclude people with disabilities as well.”
For those of you not versed in anti-discrimination law (or reality), this is very, very illegal; the 1968 Fair Housing Act forbids landlords to take color, ethnicity, disability status, gender, national origin or familial status into account when renting a property.
Facebook says that it tried to install safeguards to prevent this from happening in the future, but that “glitches” had allowed the practice to continue.
While HUD has frozen some fair-housing investigations since the Trump administration came to power, Facebook now finds itself the subject of an active probe again. And that’s just the beginning of its problems.
The Washington Post reports that the announcement came the same exact day that the DOJ “took the side of several fair-housing groups in opposing Facebook’s efforts to have a discrimination lawsuit dismissed, arguing that Facebook can be held liable when its ad-targeting tools allow advertisers to unfairly deprive some categories of people of housing offers.”
“Taken together, the moves mark an escalation of federal scrutiny of how Facebook’s tools may create illegal forms of discrimination, allegations that also are central to separate lawsuits regarding the access to credit and employment opportunities, which, like housing, are subject to federal legal protection,” The Post wrote. “The federal action also suggests limits on the reach of a key federal law, the Communications Decency Act, that long has been interpreted as offering technology companies broad immunity against many types of legal claims related to online content.”
The social media giant has been in the headlines for the last few months, but not for good reasons. There have been a variety of complaints against the corporation. Conservative news outlets have seen a massive decrease in traffic in recent months. Capitol Hill doesn’t seem too thrilled with Facebook lately, and that could mean the beginning of the end for those at Menlo Park.