Facebook investigated over alleged housing discrimination

Facebook investigated over alleged housing discrimination
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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has reopened its investigation into whether Facebook violated fair housing laws, HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBen CarsonNoem takes pledge to restore 'patriotic education' in schools Watchdog blames Puerto Rico hurricane relief delays on Trump-era bureaucracy Ben Carson defends op-ed arguing racial equity is 'another kind of racism' MORE said Wednesday.

“We were very concerned when we began to uncover the facts,” Carson told a Senate panel after Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDemocrats face big headaches on Biden's T spending plan Democrats introduce bill to give hotels targeted relief Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (D-Hawaii) pressed him on the issue.

HUD had ended its initial investigation of Facebook over potentially facilitating housing discrimination last November, The New York Times reported.

Carson claimed Wednesday that HUD dropped the probe because of time pressures, with a plan to pick it up again later.

“Some of the suits that were being pursued — we didn’t really have time to study them,” Carson said. “We wanted to pull them back and have the chance to really study them.”

A HUD spokesperson told The Hill that, while the agency has “made no findings” in its resumed investigation, it has learned more about Facebook practices “that warrant a deeper level of scrutiny.”

Facebook has had several meetings with HUD, both during and after the investigations, and said that it intends to continue cooperating with the agency.

“There is no place for discrimination on our platform. It is explicitly forbidden in our ads policies and it also violates our principles,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Hill on Thursday, explaining that over the past year it has been working to add new protections to keep its ad platform from being misused.

The spokesperson said that advertisers are now required to certify that they are complying with Facebook’s anti-discrimination policies and relevant anti-discrimination laws.

HUD’s investigation of Facebook started in 2016 following a ProPublica report that found that advertisers, including those posting housing ads, could exclude Facebook users by racial categories.

If used, the tool could violate the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prevents housing discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.”

Facebook said at the time that it would put a temporary moratorium on its ethnic affinity advertising, which allowed for such discrimination, but ProPublica later found that the company still allowed the practice.

Facebook apologized and said that it fell short in its commitment to prevent discrimination in its ad tools.

The issue has been point of consternation for the Congressional Black Caucus, which grilled Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on the matter when she met with them last fall.

“This is in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and it is our strong desire to see Facebook address this issue immediately,” they wrote in a 2016 letter to the company.