Facebook Should Be Ordered to Defend Housing Suit, U.S. Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is siding with fair housing groups that claim Facebook Inc.’s ad targeting tools permit discrimination based on sex, religion, familial status and national origin.

The government filed a "statement of interest" Friday urging a federal judge to allow the suit, filed in March by the National Fair Housing Alliance and other groups, to go forward. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the groups should be permitted to pursue their claim that Facebook’s tools enable landlords and developers to exclude groups of people from receiving ads about housing based on characteristics such as family status or sex, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies," the company said in a statement. "Over the past year we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse. We’re aware of the statement of interest filed and will respond in court; and we’ll continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns.”

In a letter to U.S. District Judge John Koeltl, Berman said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Aug. 14 filed an administrative complaint against Facebook. He said the government agrees that Facebook is violating the FHA and that Facebook isn’t entitled to immunity under the Communications Decency Act, the 1996 law offering companies a shield from being held liable "as the publisher or speaker" of content placed on their site by others.

The case is National Fair Housing Alliance v. Facebook Inc., 18-cv-02689, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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