Facebook Charged By HUD With Disability-Related Discrimination Through Use Of Its advertising Platform’s Ability To Target Those Interested In Accessibility Or Service animals
The federal government is accusing Facebook of illegally using its advertising platform to discriminate against people with disabilities and other groups.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development charged the social media company Thursday with violating the Fair Housing Act. The agency said Facebook is “encouraging, enabling and causing housing discrimination” through its method of allowing advertisers to control who sees ads for homes. … According to the charge, Facebook allows advertisers to exclude or include users from seeing ads based on various attributes including interests in “accessibility” or “service animal.”
Furthermore, the charge alleges that Facebook’s system is set up in such a way that it won’t show ads to groups it considers unlikely to engage with them, even if the advertiser has explicitly targeted those groups.
As a result, “ads for housing and housing-related services are shown to large audiences that are severely biased based on characteristics protected by the (Fair Housing) Act,” according to the charge.
At last year’s National Federation of the Blind convention, Facebook stated that
one in ten people use the zoom feature on the desktop browser, 20 percent of people increase the font size on iOS, and over 100,000 use screen readers on mobile devices to view Facebook.
(Source). It didn’t take very long for what amounts to tracking those with disabilities to go from something benign to something used as a tool of discrimination. The fact that the self-styled “voice of the nation’s blind” essentially aided and abetted this isn’t surprising. And yes, the NFB owns part of this. That organization gave Facebook a platform and its blessing to essentially brag about its disability tracking efforts, and were silent when questions were raised concerning how that data was gathered. If I were a member I’d be pretty pissed right now and I’d be demanding answers from the leadership.
I don’t believe in eliminating technical solutions because ‘some’ missuse them—but if missuse becomes systemic and cause significant harm than legal solutions should come first.
I’d say that Facebook using the data it collects on people with disabilities to allow its advertisers to discriminate against people with disabilities is pretty systemic. See also Amazon’s forray into screen reader detection.
What would be interesting to know is what FaceBook intended these attributes for and if they had good intent and bad upfront.
We have exactly zero cases where this kind of thing didn’t turn into a tool for discrimination.
The intent doesn’t matter. I’m sure it was good, even admirable. Unfortunately intent did not prevent harm from being done.