Siding against Facebook, the U.S. Department of Justice is urging a federal judge to reject the company's bid to dismiss a civil lawsuit accusing it of violating housing laws by facilitating ads that discriminate against women and families with children.
"Facebook’s ad utilities, as alleged in the complaint, invite housing providers to express unlawful demographic and other audience preferences," the Department of Justice writes in papers filed Friday with U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl in New York. "In this way, Facebook goes beyond providing a blank slate for advertisers. Instead, Facebook’s advertising platform suggests unlawful options, including to landlords, developers, and housing service providers."
The Justice Department is weighing in on a legal battle dating to March, when the National Fair Housing Alliance alleged in a lawsuit that Facebook enables landlords and brokers to prevent ads from being shown to women, families with children, and users with interests suggesting a disability or particular national origin.
The housing advocates allege that between December 14, 2017 and February 23 of this year, Facebook accepted 40 ads that excluded home seekers based on their sex or family status. Facebook also allegedly allows housing advertisers to exclude certain categories of users -- like people who are interested in disabled parking permits, or in broadcasting company Telemundo -- from seeing ads.
Facebook has asked Koeltl to either transfer the lawsuit to the company's home state of California or dismiss it outright on the grounds that the Communications Decency Act immunizes platforms for illegal material posted by users.