Internet Enabled Neighborhood Discrimination?

Ideas and Issues

Syndication2New Orleans   This is our question for the day.  Are people using the supposedly “neutral” tool of the internet to get around fair housing laws that prevent housing discrimination?  An intriguing piece in the New York Times raises this issue in looking at the data explosion that gives exceptionally specific data on individual communities that therefore just might skirt the law.

The National Association of Realtors’ code of ethics prohibits realtors and associates involved in a sale from volunteering information regarding the racial, religious or ethnic composition of any neighborhood, lest they run afoul of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits steering of clients to or away from neighborhoods out of bias.  But many nonbrokerage real estate websites that act as referral generators for agents readily offer such information.

Whoa!  That sounds like trouble right under our noses and at our doorsteps.

HUD is supposedly looking at the issue but when queried was noncommittal and coy, only saying, “We are aware of the issue and are reviewing it.  It would be premature for us to comment while the review is underway.”  This seems a little bit like the BBC’s “House of Cards” saying, “You might say that, but I couldn’t comment.”

This whole side of the internet that is a tool for hate and division is very troubling, because you can’t blame the internet for providing public information and websites for aggregating it, but what can you do?   We hate to go all “big brother” on people, but it would seem that at least there could be cautions or warnings prompted by searches that could breach the Fair Housing Act.  If you are on YouTube, there are many movies and whatnot that make you prove you are over 18 years of age before letting you go forward into the unknown.  There also seem to be a huge number of scarily accurate algorithms that almost immediately send you an email from Priceline if you checked an airline site for a flight to Managua or from Amazon or a score of others if you looked for a lawnmower on the internet.  No question those folks know how to get into your head.  How about a bunch of warnings from HUD and the government that work like that and send messages to these shoppers looking to walk the line which reminds them of the law and so forth?  Would that be too creepy?

In fact would it be creepy and scary enough to have any impact.  As the kids say, “haters are gonna hate,” so is there any way to stop them?

Maybe not, but it seems to me that we have to at least make it harder for them, and maybe even let them know that somewhere, someone knows what they are up to, even if it’s a computer somewhere crunching data as well and driven by an algorithm that is watching and warning them.

            Better something, than nothing.