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The Department of Housing and Urban Development is charging Facebook with housing discrimination, alleging its targeted advertising platform violates the Fair Housing Act by “encouraging, enabling, and causing” unlawful discrimination by restricting who can view housing ads.

The charges caught Facebook off guard, coming one week after the social media giant agreed in a sweeping settlement with civil rights groups to overhaul its microtargeting ad system for job, housing and loan advertisements after discrimination complaints.

“We’re surprised,” said Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne. “We’ve been working with [HUD] to address their concerns and have taken significant steps to prevent ads discrimination.”

He said a breakdown occurred when the government requested total access to the company’s user base, a request Facebook denied because it would have set a dangerous precedent.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson last August accused Facebook of enabling housing discrimination by allowing advertisers to exclude people based on race, gender, Zip code or religion. The move followed a nearly two- year preliminary investigation initiated during the Obama administration.

“Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” Carson said.


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