The US Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook on Thursday for proliferating racial discrimination through its focused ad algorithms.
Facebook’s ad systems reportedly enabled advertisers in their site to discriminate others through housing opportunities, credit, and employment.
HUD’s complaint states that Facebook violated the Fair Housing Act by allowing its advertisers to conduct prejudicial treatment in housing and related services based on race, color, religion, and other identifying factors.
Specifically, “Facebook enabled advertisers to exclude people whom Facebook classified as parents; non-American-born; non-Christian; interested in accessibility; interested in Hispanic culture; or a wide variety of other interests that closely align with the Fair Housing Act’s protected classes.”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson added in a statement that “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.”
This comes shortly less than a week after Facebook settled previous charges regarding their discriminatory ads system with the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and others.
As a result of the settlement, Facebook agreed that they would start making changes to their current ad-targeting system to intervene with the flourishing discriminatory practices in their platform. Facebook promised a change that will not allow its advertisers to use their ad system to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity, gender, national origin, and sexual orientation.
The social media company also paid around $5 million and other fees.
In response, Facebook said in a statement that they were surprised with the HUD’s move as they have been working with them to address concerns regarding their alleged discriminatory ad system. They also said that they have taken significant steps in doing so.
However, HUD apparently asked for sensitive private information without adequate safeguards, which led to Facebook not allowing HUD to investigate deeper into the issue. “We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues,” the company said in the statement.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development are said to be requiring monetary compensation as a penalty for all that were affected by the discriminatory practices that Facebook allowed in its platform. Based on the increasing number of housing ads and users of their ad targeting system, the numbers could quicly rise to the millions.
The said fee is not yet determined until after a court hearing is carried out. The charge will be heard by a federal administrative law judge unless any party requests the case to be heard in federal district court.
Facebook’s ad targeting system
Facebook’s advertisement targeting system is the secret behind the social media giant’s success over the years. This system allowed Facebook to garner an annual revenue close to $56 billion.
The system is a feature in facebook where advertisers are given the liberty to pin point a certain group/s to see and interact with their ads.
Their algorithm works based off how Facebook devours personal data shared across its platform. Literally, every post a user makes, pages and groups they are apart of, and even location, among others are recorded in order to provide a very specific data set for their ad targeting system.
Advertisers are then able to choose the location they want their ads seen, by what gender, by what race and so on, even until the interests of their target audience. This can be sent to a number of people all based on how much advertisers are willing to pay.
It creates a very likely receiving audience that advertisers are very eager to participate in. Imagine it like selling candy to a park full of kids, easy and profit-secure.
However, the HUD claims that homeowners have been using Facebook’s ad targeting system to target Jewish-haters or Nazi sympathizers on their ads, discriminating people of color and certain ethnicities from seeing the same ads. Thus, limiting their opportunities from a number of housing options because they simply don’t know they exist because they’re practically barred from seeing them.
“[Facebook] holds out its advertising platform as a powerful resource for advertisers in many industries, including housing and housing-related services,” Hud’s complaint states. But, “because of the way [Facebook] designed its advertising platform, ads for housing and housing-related services are shown to large audiences that are severely biased.”