The suit alleges that Facebook allowed advertisers to restrict which users could view the advertisements based on identifiers including race, religion, and national origin. HUD also claims that Facebook also determines which users can see housing-related ads based on its own data mining practices. Both actions are in direct violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, The New York Times reports. “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” housing secretary Ben Carson said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”
The lawsuit coincides with a broader push by civil rights groups to scrutinize whether big technology companies are reinforcing real-world biases online by using algorithms to identify and target specific groups of users.
The Silicon Valley company tried to counter the furor over its role in the 2016 [presidential election] by taking steps to prevent the same thing from happening in the 2018 midterm elections. But its main business continues to be based on identifying and dividing its users by characteristics, and then selling that information to those who hope to capitalize on it.