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Fair housing groups file lawsuit against Facebook

New York

FAIR housing groups in the US filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday saying that Facebook continues to discriminate against certain groups, including women, disabled veterans and single mothers, in the way that it allows advertisers to target the audience for their ads. The suit comes as the social network is scrambling to deal with an international crisis over the misuse of data belonging to 50 million of its users.

Facebook, with more than two billion users a month, provides advertisers with the ability to customise their messages and target who sees them by selecting from preset lists of demographics, likes, behaviours and interests, while excluding others.

Facebook, in response to criticism over the past 17 months, has repeatedly promised that it would crack down on advertisers who use those tools to show housing or employment ads to whites only.

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But in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in the US District Court in Manhattan, the National Fair Housing Alliance and affiliates in New York, San Antonio and Miami contend that Facebook's advertising platform "continues to enable landlords and real estate brokers to bar families with children, women and others from receiving rental and sales ads for housing".

Diane L Houk, a lawyer for of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, said: "We want the court to order Facebook to develop a plan to remove any ability for advertisers to access Facebook's checklists for excluding groups of people in the posting of housing-related ads.

The suit says Facebook is in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to publish housing ads that indicate preferences or limitations based on race colour, religion, handicaps, familial status or national origin.

"We believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously," a Facebook spokesperson said. NYTIMES