The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Friday filed a formal complaint against Facebook alleging that it illegally allows real estate sellers to restrict their advertisements by characteristics such as race.
"The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination including those who might limit or deny housing options with a click of a mouse," Anna María Farías, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a statement.
"When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it’s the same as slamming the door in someone’s face," she added.
The complaint alleges that Facebook's advertising platform allows sellers to exclude wide swaths of protected classes from seeing their housing ads.
A spokesperson for Facebook said in an emailed statement to The Hill that it would cooperate with HUD to "address their concerns."
“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies," the spokesperson said. "Over the past year we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse."
The complaint will start a formal investigation into the social network's advertising practices. The agency could file a lawsuit depending on what it finds and whether Facebook is willing to negotiate a settlement.
"Facebook unlawfully discriminates by enabling advertisers to restrict which Facebook users receive housing-related ads based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability," the complaint alleges.
The complaint comes on the same day that the Justice Department backed a lawsuit from fair housing groups against Facebook. The agency argued that the company can be held liable for actions by their advertisers.
Facebook's spokesperson said it would respond to the filing in court.