A proposed class action out of California alleges Facebook’s advertising platform violates the Fair Housing Act by allowing advertisers and publishers to discriminatorily exclude protected classes of people from seeing ads for their properties.
A federal judge has dismissed the case detailed on this page, finding the plaintiffs failed to show they were harmed by Facebook’s allegedly discriminatory ad targeting tools.
According to an August 20 order, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick noted that while the plaintiffs’ third amended complaint added more specific information regarding the housing searches they performed on Facebook, these additional details “do not plausibly demonstrate” that housing meeting their search criteria was available in their desired markets and appeared in paid advertisements on Facebook that were not shown to the plaintiffs due to discriminatory ad targeting.
“In sum, what the plaintiffs have alleged is that they each used Facebook to search for housing based on identified criteria and that no results were returned that met their criteria,” the judge wrote. “They assume (but plead no facts to support) that no results were returned because unidentified advertisers theoretically used Facebook’s Targeting Ad tools to exclude them based on their protected class statuses from seeing paid Ads for housing that they assume (again , [sic] with no facts alleged in support) were available and would have otherwise met their criteria. Plaintiffs’ claim that Facebook denied them access to unidentified Ads is the sort of generalized grievance that is insufficient to support standing.”
The August order went on to state that even if the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that they’d been injured by Facebook’s ad targeting tools, their claims would still be barred by the Communications Decency Act, which grants Facebook immunity against claims arising from third-party content.
Accordingly, Judge Orrick dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs cannot refile their claims.
A proposed class action out of California alleges Facebook’s advertising platform violates the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by allowing advertisers and publishers to discriminatorily exclude protected classes of people from seeing ads for their properties.
According to the lawsuit, the FHA prohibits real estate brokers and landlords from publishing tailored advertisements based on “race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” The case, echoing claims of a similar lawsuit filed in November 2016, explains that Facebook’s advertising platform allows advertisers to target specific audiences by including or excluding people who meet certain criteria, such as African American users, mothers of preschoolers, people interested in Islam, or Spanish speakers.
When it comes to advertising for housing, this type of discriminatory behavior—which the case describes as “redlining”—is unlawful, the lawsuit argues, because it blocks protected classes from ever seeing that certain properties are for sale or for rent while those same properties are shown to people with “favored” characteristics. From the complaint:
“Facebook thus created and developed its Ad Platform with its anti-diversity Multicultural Affinity tool that Facebook and its advertisers have used to avoid publishing, providing or sending information or content to users in protected classes, while defendant published, provided, and/or sent the same information and content to other Facebook users who are not in protected classes.”
The lawsuit notes that ProPublica in 2016 began reporting on Facebook’s allegedly discriminatory advertising practices, sparking investigations by other news outlets and nonprofit organizations. On March 28, 2019, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a charge of discrimination against Facebook, noting that “reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred.”
The lawsuit looks to cover a fairly nuanced proposed class of:
“All natural person Facebook users located within the United States, who are in the protected classes of race, color, sex, familial status, and/or disability/handicap or national origin, and who at any time from the earliest date actionable under the limitations period until the date of judgment in this action, and who:
used Facebook and/or Facebook’s Marketplace to seek housing and due to Facebook’s marketing, sourcing, advertising, branding and/or other services that facially discriminate or have a disparate impact, were excluded from receiving marketing, sourcing, advertising, branding or other information for housing, or
have not seen an housing-related advertisement on Facebook because the ad’s buyer used the Ad Platform’s ‘Exclude People’ functionality to exclude the class member based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.”