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Facebook allows employers to target job ads based on age

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Another algorithmic headache for Facebook

Facebook has just come under even more scrutiny today for its lack of oversight into algorithmic ad targeting following a new joint investigation from The New York Times and ProPublica, this time focused on potential age discrimination. Similar to how ProPublica illustrated last year and again just last month how housing ads on Facebook could exclude users by so-called “ethnic” and “multicultural” affinities, this new report shows how the social network also lets advertisers exclude certain age groups for job ads.

Instead of claim that it wants to do better, as Facebook has with regards to racially discriminatory housing ads, the company seems to be taking a far more defensive stance here. In a blog post titled, “This Time, ProPublica, We Disagree,” Facebook VP Rob Goldman penned a lengthy defense of the practice. “Simply showing certain job ads to different age groups on services like Facebook or Google may not in itself be discriminatory — just as it can be OK to run employment ads in magazines and on TV shows targeted at younger or older people,” he writes. Goldman says the differentiator is that marketing is “broadly based and inclusive,” and that requirements for certain employers may involve age registrations that go both ways, like for summer employment, the military, or jobs intended to attract retirees.

“We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory,” Goldman goes on to say that, “Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work.” We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory.”

FACEBOOK DEFENDS THE PRACTICE OF AGE-BASED AD TARGETING, DESPITE THE POTENTIAL FOR DISCRIMINATION

Major companies mentioned in the report — including Amazon, Verizon, and even Facebook itself, which uses its own platform to recruit — were found to have used ads targeting certain age groups and some excluding those 40 or older. Amazon said it had “corrected” those ads, and LinkedIn even changed its tools to explicitly try and prevent age discrimination. Other companies defended the practice, skirting responsibility for wrongdoing by saying ads on Facebook were part of broader, non-discriminatory ad campaigns.

Still, the report says Facebook is fighting lawsuits that seek to hold its platform responsible by challenging all accusations of discrimination and attempting to avoid carrying any liability for potentially discriminatory practices. However, the report also quotes an employment lawyer who describes Facebook’s tools as “blatantly unlawful.” The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 makes it illegal to use age as a sole criteria when filling a position, specifically by exhibiting bias against workers 40 or older. There is a bit more leeway here than with other protected classes. For instance, employers can use wording like “entry-level” and “junior” to specify the expected salary and, at least implicitly, the expected age of applicants. That is not unlawful, and it does give employers wiggle room to consider “reasonable factors,” including the ability to afford a salary of a certain amount, that are inherent to a certain characteristic that may make someone part of a protected class, like age. The same is not true of race or gender-based discrimination laws that are more strictly enforced, the report explains.

In court filings, Facebook has cited the protections afforded by the Communications Decency Act. That’s the same federal law that immunizes Facebook and other platform-owning tech companies from hosting unlawful user-submitted content like copyright infringing video, child pronography, and incitements of violence against minorities. “Advertisers, not Facebook, are responsible for both the content of their ads and what targeting criteria to use, if any,” the company wrote in a recent response to a lawsuit alleging it is violating civil rights laws by way of ad targeting tools. Facebook is already immunized against the content of ads, but it’s still up in the air whether its ad targeting tools can be considered “aiding” or “abetting” discrimination.

Credit: The Verge

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