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Facebook Hit With Lawsuit By HUD Over Discrimination In Ads

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Facebook has been hit with a lawsuit by the Department of Housing and Urban Development over running real estate ads that discriminated against users.

According to a report in CNBC, citing the lawsuit, the government agency wants damages for anyone who was hurt by the advertising policies of the social media giant. Facebook recently overhauled its policies, but previously employers and landlords were able to choose audiences for ads based on race, gender, and ethnicity. A similar lawsuit against Facebook from the ACLU was settled last week and resulted in Facebook changing its policies.

In the complaint, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said the way the social media giant's advertising platform was created, “ads for housing and housing-related services are shown to large audiences that are severely biased,” according to the news outlet. The federal agency is seeking unspecified monetary damages and the “maximum civil penalty” against Facebook for violating the laws.

“While we were eager to find a solution, HUD insisted on access to sensitive information — like user data — without adequate safeguards,” a Facebook spokesperson told the news outlet. “We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues.”

Facebook has faced widespread criticism for its ad-based business model that enables advertisers to customize the audience for specific criteria. That enables advertisers to pick and choose the audience they target with ads. In a recent blog post, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said there is a long history of discrimination in housing, employment and credit, and “this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads.” Noting the social media company has made changes, she wrote, “Our policies already prohibit advertisers from using our tools to discriminate. We’ve removed thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion. But we can do better.”

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