Facebook job ads allow age discrimination, lawsuit claims

Facebook defends ad targeting meant to discriminate against older workers

For a vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people who check Facebook every day, the ad did not exist.

Major U.S. employers engaged in age discrimination by placing recruitment ads on Facebook targeting specific age groups, according to a lawsuit filed by a communications industry labor union on Wednesday.

In the end, is Facebook to blame or the advertisers?

"These companies eliminate older workers from receiving job ads by specifically targeting their employment ads to younger workers via Facebook's ad platform", the suit alleges, displaying two images reportedly from Facebook.

Is this OK? According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, it probably isn't, because showing age bias when hiring is not lawful, according to the act. Many jurisdictions make it unlawful to "aid" or "abet" age discrimination, a provision that could apply to companies like Facebook that distribute job ads.

Facebook defended the practice.

"Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason", Rob Goldman, Facebook's VP of ads, responded in a blog post.

But, this time round, the company claims it's doing no wrong.

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Facebook has argued in court filings that the law, the Communications Decency Act, makes it immune from liability for discriminatory ads. A new investigation released today revealed that the company also allows advertisers potentially to discriminate by age. LinkedIn changed its system to exclude age, Google did not.

"We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory", said Goldman of Facebook told ProPublica.

Background: The legal challenge is seeking class action status in order to represent Facebook users 40 or older who may have been denied the opportunity to know about certain open job openings.

In searching through its own recruitment ads, Facebook found examples of ad creative differing by context.

An exhibit (PDF) shows screenshots of other age-targeted ads. And State Farm ads collected by ProPublica were mainly targeted at people between 19 and 35. Tech companies like to describe themselves as passive vessels for others' publishing decisions, to stay within reach of "safe harbour" defences.

Facebook itself was also a part of the companies that ran the age-based career ads.

In its response, Facebook defended its own age-targeted recruitment advertisements as part of "broader-based recruitment efforts created to reach all ages and all backgrounds". "The screenshot to the right shows that T-Mobile sent the job ad because T-Mobile 'wants to reach people ages 18 to 38 who live or were recently in the United States'". The ad is accompanied by an explanation titled "Why am I seeing this ad".

Facebook's targeted ad tools have landed it in hot water again. In Amazon's case, for jobs at its distribution centers, it changed 18-50 to anyone over the age of 18. "For some of our social-media ads, we look to get the content to the people most likely to be interested but do not exclude anyone from our recruiting activity".

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