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Facebook sued for allegedly enabling housing discrimination

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook is facing a lawsuit from civil rights groups that claim the company’s ad practices enable discriminatory housing practices.

The suit, filed in federal court by the National Fair Housing Alliance and other groups, alleges Facebook allows advertisers to exclude protected groups by characteristics like gender and family makeup.

In 2016, investigative news outlet ProPublica first documented how Facebook allowed advertisers to place housing ads that excluded users based on their race, apparently in violation of the Fair Housing Act. A follow-up report in 2017 found that, despite promises, the company continued to allow similar exclusions. Facebook, in response, said it would temporarily block advertisers from using options that excluded users by race.

According to the suit, the groups conducted similar investigations and found that Facebook continues to allow advertising options that could be used to bypass protected groups of people.

“There is absolutely no place for discrimination on Facebook,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

Facebook continues to face controversy after the personal information of millions of users was obtained by the data firm Cambridge Analytica.

Update, 5:39 PM ET: Includes statement from Facebook spokesperson.