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 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.”