The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently issued a statement announcing that it “has worked with Google to improve Google’s online advertising policies to better align them with requirements of the Fair Housing Act, where applicable.”

Last year, HUD issued a “Charge of Discrimination” against Facebook that charged the company “with engaging in discriminatory housing practices in violation of the [provisions of the Fair Housing Act that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or disability.]”  HUD’s Charge (which initiates an administrative enforcement proceeding) alleged that Facebook designed its advertising platform in a way that shows advertisements for housing and housing-related services “to large audiences that are severely biased based on characteristics protected by the [FHA].”

In its statement, HUD referenced its Fair Housing charge against Facebook and indicated that it “has also been engaged with other platforms to improve their policies and practices for housing-related advertisements.”  It stated that Google has “enhanced its anti-discrimination policies by adopting a specific policy prohibiting advertisers from engaging in certain discriminatory practices when placing housing-related ads using Google’s advertising services.”

Google also issued a statement in which it indicated that “to further improve access to housing, employment, and credit opportunities, we are introducing a new personalized advertising policy for certain types of ads.  This policy will prohibit impacted employment, housing, and credit advertisers from targeting or excluding ads based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP Code.”  According to Google’s statement, this action expands its existing policy not to allow advertisers to target ads “based on categories such as race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, to name a few.”  Google plans to put this new policy into effect in the U.S. and Canada no later than by year-end.

The statements issued by HUD and Google demonstrate that regulatory concern continues about the targeting of digital advertising based on protected characteristics under anti-discrimination laws.  Financial services companies need to be aware of the characteristics that they are using to target advertisements, and should proceed cautiously in light of the risks in using targeted digital advertising.