HUD resumes its investigation into Facebook over discriminatory housing ads

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development had reportedly closed the investigation, but now it's looking more into Facebook's ad practices

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Facebook is under investigation for housing discrimination, again.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reopened an investigation into discriminatory housing advertisements on Facebook, according to a report in Gizmodo.

The investigation had reportedly been closed in November 2016, but HUD reportedly found new information that prompted them to seek further review. An agency official confirmed to Gizmodo that the investigation had been reopened.

“Secretary [Ben] Carson has directed HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to re-open its investigation into Facebook’s advertising practices,” HUD general deputy secretary for public affairs Jereon Brown told Gizmodo. “Since our initial investigation, we have learned more about these practices that warrant a deeper level of scrutiny. At this point, we are resuming an investigation and have made no findings in this matter.”

Facebook first faced scrutiny over fair housing violations in 2016, when ProPublica found that Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude ethnic groups when posting ads for housing: in effect, making it possible for advertisers to create digital “whites-only” housing listings. Allowing advertisers to reach their target audiences by targeting and excluding certain groups is common practice in digital advertising, but those practices become dicey when applied to protected categories like housing.

Facebook at the time said it would prevent this from happening again, but a year later, in November 2017, ProPublica found it was still able to place similar discriminatory ads. Facebook is being sued by the National Fair Housing Alliance in connection with these reports.

The issue came up when Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about the platform’s Cambridge Analytica data scandal earlier this month.

“There is no place for discrimination on our platform. It is explicitly forbidden in our ads policies and it also violates our principles,” Facebook said in a statement emailed to Inman. “Over the past year we’ve strengthened our ads products to further protect against potential misuse. This includes removing thousands of categories, like multicultural affinity segments, from our exclusion targeting tools.

“We’ve also improved our certification systems, which require advertisers to certify that they are complying with our anti-discrimination policies and all applicable anti-discrimination laws when running ads for housing, employment or credit opportunities on Facebook. These systems reject thousands of such ads per day; if the business declines to certify their compliance, the ad is rejected.”

Email Emma Hinchliffe