Federal officials alerted Twitter and Google in 2018 that they are peering into the tech giants’ business practices for possible housing discrimination, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing anonymous sources.
Reports about the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s decision to alert the two Silicon Valley companies comes hours after officials charged Facebook with housing discrimination. Facebook’s targeting tools enable and encourage unlawful discrimination by restricting who can view housing ads, media reports show.
“They want to make sure that other companies aren’t getting away with something that one company is investigated for,” a source with knowledge of HUD’s intention told WaPo. (RELATED: Facebook Sued By Department Of Housing And Urban Development For Discrimination)
Twitter policies forbid targeted advertising on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion, a company spokesman told reporters. The spokesman declined further comment on HUD’s interest in Twitter. Google provided a similar statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“We’ve had policies in place for many years that prohibit targeting ads on the basis of sensitive categories like race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, disability status, negative financial standing, etc. Our policies are designed to protect users and ensure that advertisers are using our platforms in a responsible manner,” a Google representative told TheDCNF.
HUD’s move was surprising, according to Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne. He even suggest the government wanted access to the company’s user data base.
“While we were eager to find a solution, HUD insisted on access to sensitive information — like user data — without adequate safeguards,” he told WaPo. “We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues.”
Facebook was dinged in 2016 for similar reasons. A class action lawsuit filed in California of that year alleged that Facebook violated key civil rights laws after it was discovered that the social media company allows advertisers to target users by race and ethnicity.
The company has a self-service advertising page, which offers many different marketing functions. One of the features allows for advertisers to “EXCLUDE people” and “Narrow Audience” for specific demographics, like “Ethnic Affinity.” The lawsuit contends that this is a direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson addressed the issue in a statement Thursday morning. “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” Carson said in a press statement. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”
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