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April 2019

HUD Brings Housing Discrimination Charge Against Facebook

By Emily A. Bruemmer

HousingOn March 28, 2019, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) filed a Charge of Discrimination against Facebook, alleging that Facebook violated the Fair Housing Act “by encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination through the company’s advertising platform.”  This is an administrative action filed by the Secretary of HUD, on behalf of complainant Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, before the Office of Administrative Law Judges at HUD.  Unless any of the parties chooses to have the case heard in federal district court, an administrative law judge will hear the charge and may award damages, in addition to injunctive or other equitable relief, attorney fees, and fines.  HUD previously announced a formal complaint, initiated by the Secretary of HUD, against Facebook in August 2018.  The formal complaint was the first step in a process that then moved to a fact-finding investigation.  Last month’s charge indicates that the investigation resulted in a determination that there was reasonable cause to believe that Facebook violated the Fair Housing Act.

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Facebook Announces Potential $5 Billion FTC Fine

By Emily A. Bruemmer

Facebook-privacyOn April 24, 2019, Facebook announced in its Q1 earnings release that it had set aside $3 billion and estimates that it may pay up to $5 billion in a fine related to the FTC’s ongoing inquiry into its “platform and user data practices.” Facebook entered into a settlement with the FTC related to its privacy practices in 2011, which has reportedly been re-opened. This would be the largest fine ever imposed by the FTC on a technology company. The possibility of a “multi-billion dollar fine” was first reported this February by The Washington Post.

Online Lender Agrees to Pay $3.85 Million to the FTC

By Corinne M. Smith

Cash-walletOn April 15, 2019, the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection announced a settlement with online personal-loan lender Avant LLC for $3.85 million.  The FTC had accused Avant of engaging in a pattern of deceptive and unfair conduct regarding consumers’ payments and payment information, including falsely advertising that it would accept payment by credit or debit cards and then rejecting those forms of payment; withdrawing money from consumers’ accounts and charging their credit cards without authorization; improperly withdrawing consumers’ monthly payments twice or more in one month—in one instance, 11 times in a single day; and refusing to provide refunds and continuing to charge consumers without authorization following consumer complaints.  The FTC further accused Avant of impermissibly requiring borrowers to agree to recurring automatic debits of their bank accounts as a condition of obtaining a loan.  The FTC alleged violations of the following statutes and regulations: Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a); Section 310.4(a)(9) of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, 16 C.F.R. § 310.4(a)(9); Section 913(1) of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1693k(1); and Section 1005.10(e)(1) of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Regulation E, 12 C.F.R. § 1005.10(e)(1).  The settlement order, filed in the Northern District of Illinois, permanently enjoins Avant from engaging in these unlawful practices, and it requires that the $3.85 million be returned to consumers who were harmed.