Politicians and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are scrutinizing the company's data privacy practices. The alarm bells will be ringing at Facebook because the lawsuit seeks class action status on behalf of all affected users as well as asking for unspecified damages.
The US Federal Trade commission (FTC) has already confirmed that it was investigating Facebook after the leak of personal and other data.
But a new lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the National Fair Housing Alliance in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of NY, alleges that the world's largest social network still allows advertisers to discriminate against legally protected groups, including mothers, the disabled and Spanish-language speakers. However, the housing groups' and ProPublica's ability to exclude people interested in Telemundo suggests that advertisers could still discriminate by using proxies for race or ethnicity. In November 2016, Facebook claimed it would eliminate using "ethnic affinity marketing for ads that (Facebook) identif [ies] as offering housing employment or credit".
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Facebook on Tuesday denied the lawsuit's allegations. That law essentially says that platforms that merely allow third parties to post material can not be held liable for something that is discriminatory. "We believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously".
In New York, the Fair Housing Justice Center created an ad for a rental apartment by selecting "no kids" and "men" from the inclusion list and "moms of grade school kids" and other groups from the exclusion list. The plaintiffs said they created a fake realty firm, prepared dozens of ads for review and were provided with specific lists of groups they could exclude from receiving them, including families with children and the disabled.
Ad targeting options made available on Facebook, according to a lawsuit. Facebook estimated that the ad would reach 280,000 people. Earlier this month, Facebook became embroiled in a major crisis over the mishandling of data from 50 million users. Such data is a boon for advertisers, and in turn, for Facebook.
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The organizations note in their complaint that their lawsuit hits Facebook in the same year as the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, the law that makes exclusionary advertising in housing illegal.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits home rental and sale advertisements from discriminating "based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin". A joint investigation by ProPublica and the New York Times also found that Facebook ads were being used to exclude older workers from seeing job listings.
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