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Federal government charges Facebook with housing discrimination in its targeted ads

The social media giant was allegedly allowing advertisers to keep protected classes from seeing housing ads

Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

The federal government announced Thursday that it is charging Facebook with housing discrimination for how it uses its targeted ads.

What are the charges against Facebook?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced in a news release that it would be charging Facebook with violating the Fair Housing Act by enabling "advertisers to exclude people whom Facebook classified as parents; non-American-born; non-Christian; interested in accessibility; interested in Hispanic culture; or a wide variety of other interests that closely align with the Fair Housing Act's protected classes."

It also charged Facebook with enabling "advertisers to exclude people based upon their neighborhood by drawing a red line around those neighborhoods on a map." It also alleged that these ads could be targeted to people based on their gender.

"Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live," HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in the release. "Using a computer to limit a person's housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone's face."

This charge comes as the result of a two-year-long investigation that was put into motion during the Obama administration.

What else?

In August, the department filed a formal complaint against Facebook for the same charges. According to the August complaint, Facebook was letting advertisers display housing ads to only members of a particular religion, and allowed them to keep their housing ads from being shown to people "interested in" Canada, China, Honduras, Latin America, Somalia, or Southeast Asia.

Also in August, the Department of Justice filed a similar "statement of interest" with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

HUD said that damages could be awarded if a judge agreed that Facebook had engaged in discrimination.

One last thing…
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