Who sees housing ads on Facebook? Women and vets excluded, suit claims

Who sees housing ads on Facebook? Women and vets excluded, suit claims

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the social media giant "made mistakes" over the Cambridge Analytica scandal and a "breach of trust" had occurred between it and its users.

When it comes to housing and employment ads, Facebook, in response to criticism over the past 17 months, has repeatedly promised that it would crack down on advertisers who use those tools to show housing or employment ads to whites only.

State and federal regulators are assessing whether the transfer of data violated privacy agreements. They found that they were able to exclude parents, women and people who had expressed interest in issues that suggest they are members of a protected class, such as "disability".

"Advertisers, not Facebook, are responsible for both the content of their ads and what targeting criteria to use, if any", Facebook contended.

This lawsuit hits Facebook as the company is grappling with a global crisis over user data.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to end Facebook's practice of discriminatory housing advertising and to require the company to change its advertising platform to comply with fair housing laws.

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to publish any advertisement "with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin".

A Facebook representative could not immediately be reached for comment. The company generated nearly all of its revenue past year - some $40 billion - through advertising.

Facebook was first called out in 2016 for offering an ad customization option called "Ethnic Affinities", which let advertisers target and exclude specific groups for ads, including housing-related ads. A joint investigation by ProPublica and the New York Times also found that Facebook ads were being used to exclude older workers from seeing job listings.

The Daily Mail reports that Facebook uses internet browsing data to determine where their users land on the political spectrum, ranging from "very liberal" to "very conservative". The ads were approved by Facebook over a period of a few months, with the most recent buys occurring on February 23.

A couple of weeks after the groups bought housing ads, so did ProPublica (independently) - and we excluded some of the same categories, such as "soccer moms".

Still, in November of previous year, ProPublica was able to buy dozens of rental housing ads that excluded blacks, Jews, people interested in wheelchair ramps, mothers of high school kids, and Spanish speakers.