The Trump administration announced a fair housing discrimination complaint against social media giant Facebook on Friday, saying the way the company targets ads can be used to screen out people based on race, sex or other protected categories.
The complaint goes to the heart of Facebook’s business model, which depends on being able to offer advertisers micro-targeting.
“Facebook mines extensive user data and classifies its users based on protected characteristics. Facebook’s ad targeting tools then invite advertisers to express unlawful preferences by suggesting discriminatory options,” the Housing and Urban Development Department said in the complaint.
Among those options are physical disabilities, parents with children and even religious practices — advertisers are allowed to show their ads only to people Facebook deems interested in “Jesus” or the “Christian Church,” for example.
Those practices could violate the Civil Rights Act, HUD said in the complaint, dated August 13.
The government had begun an investigation in 2016 after learning that Facebook allowed people running ads to narrow down those who can see their advertising based on protected categories.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but has previously said its policies tell advertisers not to discriminate. The company also insisted it had safeguards to stop advertisers from selecting based on race or ethnicity.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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