ECBA Attorneys Reach Historic Settlement to Reform Facebook’s Housing Advertising Platform

On March 18, 2019 ECBA attorneys announced a $2,450,000 settlement for clients the National Fair Housing Alliance (“NFHA”), the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (“HOPE”), and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (“FHCGSA”) to settle housing discrimination claims against Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”).  This agreement will implement far-reaching changes across Facebook’s advertising platform for housing, employment and credit (“HEC”) advertising.  In March, 2018 ECBA filed suit in federal district court alleging that Facebook had created pre-populated lists making it possible for housing advertisers to “exclude” (in Facebook terminology) Facebook users from receiving rental, sales or financing ads because of their race, national origin, sex, disability or family status.

The Facebook settlement sets a new benchmark for assuring that targeted advertising on social media complies with civil rights laws.  Facebook will establish a separate advertising portal for creating HEC ads on Facebook and all Facebook-owned platforms, including Instagram and Messenger.  On this new portal, HEC advertisers will not be able to target Facebook users (1) based on gender, age or multi-cultural affinity; (2) by zip code as all HEC ads must have a minimum geographic radius of 15 miles from a specific address or from the center of a city; and (3) based on categories that describe or appear to relate to personal characteristics or classes protected under federal, state, and local fair housing laws, including, race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, family status, disability, and sexual orientation.

In addition, Facebook will create a new page which will allow consumers to view all housing ads placed on the Facebook platform irrespective of whether the consumer was part of the advertisers’ targeted audience.  NFHA will work with Facebook to develop an in-house fair housing training program for Facebook leadership and staff.  Facebook will provide ECBA’s clients with $500,000 of in-kind advertising to promote fair housing on Facebook.

Finally, Facebook will pay $1.9 million in damages and attorneys’ fees, including to provide future training for housing advertisers on how to use social media in a manner consistent with fair housing laws and to create programming to promote fair housing using social media.

The Plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk, Katherine Rosenfeld, and David Berman.

Click here to read NFHA’s press release.

Click here to read the settlement agreement.

Read more about ECBA’s work on this case in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

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