Facebook Accused of ‘Discriminatory’ Housing Ad Practices in HUD Lawsuit

“Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson says

Facebook is being sued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for letting its advertisers block who is able to see their ads based on several factors, including race, religion and sex.

“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” HUD secretary Ben Carson said in a statement on Thursday. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

The lawsuit is seeking damages for anyone impacted by Facebook’s ad practices, which were recently overhauled after the social network¬† settled a $5 million complaint filed by the ACLU, accusing the company of allowing landlords to pick and choose who saw their ads based on their background. HUD’ s complaint said¬†“because of the way [Facebook] designed its advertising platform, ads for housing and housing-related services are shown to large audiences that are severely biased.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

“We’re surprised by HUD’s decision, as we’ve been working with them to address their concerns and have taken significant steps to prevent” ad discrimination, the company said in a statement to The New York Times.

HUD’s lawsuit also accuses Facebook of using its extensive data-mining practices to determine who is able to see housing ads on its platform. This, along with HUD’s chief complaint it allows advertisers to discriminate based on several factors, violate the Fair Housing Act, according to HUD’s complaint.

Wall Street didn’t seem to care much about the lawsuit, with Facebook’s shares increasing 0.5 percent in early morning trading to about $166.50 per share.