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The US Department of Housing and Urban Development is suing Facebook over ‘unlawful’ advertising tactics (FB)

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  • Federal regulators have served Facebook with a complaint over the company’s ad targeting tools available to housing advertisers.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s complaint sides with advocacy groups that brought a lawsuit against Facebook in March.
  • The lawsuit claims that Facebook violates fair-housing laws, which follows a massive investigation by ProPublica.

The Justice Department filed a “statement of interest” on Friday that sides with housing groups who claim that Facebook’s advertising platform violates fair-housing laws.

The statement allows a suit filed in March, led by the National Fair Housing Alliance, to live on. According to the housing groups, Facebook’s tools allow advertisers to target by sex, religion, familial status and national origin, which violate fair-housing laws.

The company has been in hot water over its housing advertising practices since 2016, when ProPublica published a report about Facebook’s monitoring of housing ads. Since then, Facebook has updated its policies and added machine learning that identifies housing, credit, and employment ads, but a follow-up report from ProPublica in November found that ads continued to not be policed.

Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that Facebook’s practice, “creates and harvests user data to develop profiles for each user, categorizing them into groups based on demographics, interests, behaviors and other criteria.” He added that “categorizing of Facebook users based on protected characteristics” violates the Fair Housing Administration (or FHA). Specifically, the Justice Department commented on the Communications Decency Act portion of the lawsuit — not the entire lawsuit.

“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies,” Facebook said in a statement. “Over the past year we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse. We’re aware of the statement of interest filed and will respond in court.”

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