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HUD vs Facebook: What We Know So Far

HUD vs Facebook: What We Know So Far

A year after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has found itself back on the hot seat. Only this time, it’s the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that are singling out the social media giant for its ad targeting system.

How did it come to this, considering the fact that Facebook has been a vital platform creating closer ties between people and the real estate sector?

Housing discrimination?

First off, let’s discuss a little bit about Facebook’s Ad Targeting platform.

Aside from being a community of people sharing moments and memes, the social media network also functions as an advertising platform where businesses can promote their products and services to a target audience.

Take note of the word “target.” Using an algorithm and predictive analytics,  Facebook’s advertising platform allows businesses to push ads to people that match their preferred client criteria.

While it seems like a less costly way for small realtors to promote their services, HUD has taken issue with Facebook’s targeting options that purportedly exclude certain users from seeing an ad based on their race, the neighborhood they’re living in, and the language they speak, among other “protected traits”.

This has prompted HUD Secretary Ben Carson to describe Facebook’s ad targeting as “discriminatory,” while others have gone so far as to call the practice a form of redlining.

Violation of federal law


Photo credit: John Shinkle/POLITICO

The HUD complaint has called into light how online platforms – and not just Facebook – are adopting sophisticated means to help businesses broaden their reach without taking into account their cultural and social impact.

Sure enough, HUD has cited Facebook for violations that include:

  • using an algorithm that discriminates homebuyers based on race, religion, and nationality; and
  • prioritizing certain groups of homebuyers over others.

No doubt, Facebook’s ad platform goes against the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that seeks to prevent the real estate industry from discriminating homebuyers based on their social, cultural, religious, and economic leanings.

Just the beginning

This is not the first time Facebook was accused of discrimination. It faced a similar complaint two years ago when it allowed demographic targeting based on “ethnic affinities.” Facebook’s executives would later commit to addressing the problem and make changes to its ad targeting system.

In light of this recent development, Facebook has defended itself by highlighting “significant steps to prevent ads discrimination.” However, it has also reproached HUD for its insistence to access “sensitive information- like user data – without adequate safeguards.”

At any rate, a New York Times op-ed has described the HUD complaint as “just the beginning” of an extensive government inquiry into the ad targeting practices of other social networks and websites.

For now, you can always opt for a realtor who can work with you based on your needs – nothing more, nothing less.

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