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Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with Kristen Clarke, Deputy Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, announced today that the Department of Justice has signed an agreement to resolve the allegations that Meta Platforms, Inc. ., formerly known as Facebook, Inc., engaged in discriminatory advertising in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The agreement would resolve a lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that Meta’s home advertising system discriminates against Facebook users on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability. , family status and national origin. The proposed agreement is subject to review and approval by a district judge in the Southern District of New York.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “When a company develops and deploys technology that deprives users of housing opportunities based in whole or in part on protected features, it has violated the Fair Housing Act, as well as When companies advertise discriminatory advertising using more traditional advertising methods, Meta will change its ad system for the first time to address algorithmic discrimination, but if Meta does not show that it has changed its delivery system is sufficient to protect itself from algorithmic bias, this Office will proceed with the litigation “.

Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke said: “As technology evolves rapidly, companies like Meta have a responsibility to ensure that their algorithmic tools are not used in a discriminatory manner. This agreement is historic because it is the Meta agrees to cancel one of its algorithmic targeting tools and modify its housing ad delivery algorithms in response to a civil rights lawsuit. other technology companies are responsible for abusing algorithms in a way that illegally harms marginalized communities. “

Deputy Undersecretary Demetria McCain said: “It’s not just housing providers who have a duty to comply with fair housing laws. “This kind of behavior hurts us all. HUD is grateful for their continued collaboration with the Department of Justice, as they seek to uphold our country’s civil rights laws.”

Among other things, the complaint alleges that Meta uses algorithms to determine which Facebook users receive home ads and that those algorithms are based, in part, on FHA-protected features. This is the first case of the Justice Department challenging the algorithmic bias under the FHA.

Under the agreement, Meta will stop using an advertising tool for home ads (known as the “Special Ad Audience” tool) which, according to the complaint, is based on a discriminatory algorithm to find users who “s ‘resemble’ other FHA – based users. – Protected features. Meta will also develop a new system over the next six months to address racial and other disparities caused by the use of personalization algorithms in your home ad delivery system. If the United States concludes that the new system adequately addresses the discriminatory publication of housing ads, Meta will implement the system, which will be subject to Department of Justice approval and judicial oversight. If the United States concludes that the new system is insufficient to address algorithmic discrimination in home ad delivery, the settlement agreement will be canceled.

This agreement is the first time that Meta will be subject to judicial oversight for its ad targeting and ad serving system.

The U.S. complaint challenges three key aspects of Meta’s targeting and ad serving system. Specifically, the complaint alleges that:

The complaint alleges that Meta used these three aspects of its advertising system to target and offer home-related ads to some Facebook users, while excluding others based on FHA-protected features. The complaint also alleges unequal treatment and unequal impact discrimination. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Meta is responsible for disparate treatment because it intentionally classifies users based on FHA-protected features and designs algorithms that are based on users’ FHA-protected features. The complaint also alleges that Meta is responsible for disparate impact discrimination because the operation of its algorithms affects Facebook users differently depending on their membership in protected classes.

These are the main features of the settlement agreement of the parties:

The lawsuit is based on an investigation and allegation of discrimination by HUD, which found that all three aspects of Facebook’s ad delivery system offered housing ads based on FHA-protected features. During its research, HUD found that Facebook allowed home advertisers to exclude users from receiving home-related ads through targeting options that referred to FHA-protected features, and that the learning algorithm Facebook auto-opt-out excluded users from receiving home-related ads, even when advertisers were searching. target a diverse group of Facebook users. On March 28, 2019, HUD issued a discrimination charge at the end of its investigation and Facebook chose to hear that charge in federal court, leading to this lawsuit. Prior to filing this lawsuit, this Office, in accordance with its standard practice, attempted to resolve these issues without litigation.

On March 29, 2019, the day after the HUD indictment was issued, a judge in the southern district of New York approved the resolution of a private litigation addressing some of the issues raised in the indictment of the HUD. ‘HUD, a National Fair Housing Alliance et al. . v. Facebook, Inc., 18 Civ. 2689. Although this agreement reduced the potentially discriminatory guidance options available to advertisers, overlapping some of the issues raised in the Department of Justice’s complaint today, it did not resolve other issues raised in the Department Complaint: Facebook’s discriminatory posting of housing ads. using machine learning algorithms. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York had filed a Declaration of Interest in support of the National Fair Housing Alliance case on August 17, 2018, arguing that the New York District Attorney’s Office Decency Communications does not protect Facebook from liability for home delivery of ads. .

U.S. Attorney General Damian Williams and Deputy Attorney General Clarke thanked the Department of Housing and Urban Development for their efforts in the investigation.

Fair housing law prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, family status, national origin, and disability. More information on the Civil Rights Division and its enforcing civil rights laws is available at www.justice.gov/crt. More information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is available at www.justice.gov/usao-sdny. People who believe they have been discriminated against in housing can file a report with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York online at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/ civil-rights or by phone at (212) 637-0840; you can submit an online report to the Department of Justice at www.civilrights.justice.gov; or you can contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or through their website at www.hud.gov.

The case is handled by the Civil Rights Unit of the Office in the Civil Division. Assistant attorneys Ellen Blain, David J. Kennedy, Jacob Lillywhite, and Christine S. Poscablo filed the case.

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