"Simply showing certain job ads to different age groups on services like Facebook or Google may not in itself be discriminatory", said Facebook. Facebook is now reviewing its ad targeting criteria after ProPublica found advertisers could exclude specific races from ad campaigns, including those for housing.
"They may have an obligation there not to aid and abet an ad that enables discrimination", San Francisco-based lawyer Cliff Palefsky said, ProPublica reported.
Several big companies are posting recruitment ads on Facebook which are only visible to a certain age group and selectively exclude older workers from seeing those job postings, an investigation has revealed.
The revelations come at a time when the unregulated power of the tech companies is under increased scrutiny, and Congress is weighing whether to limit the immunity that it granted to tech companies in 1996 for third-party content on their platforms.
Now there's debate over whether that violates the 1968 Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
The lawsuit comes at a moment when Facebook and other technology giants are facing pressure to mitigate the negative social consequences of content posted on their platforms, particularly the impact of targeting ads. Facebook allows advertisers to select their audience, and then the Menlo Park company finds the chosen users with the extensive data it collects about members. Facebook, however, takes additional steps to explain to users why they are seeing an ad.
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The NFL announced Sunday that the league would hire an independent law firm to lead the investigation. The Bills play in a much smaller market than the Panthers, whose home is Charlotte, North Carolina.
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Nonetheless, in a time when people 40 and over are struggling in America because of age discrimination and Facebook is becoming a very large employment hub, concerns have been raised. "We have corrected those ads", Nina Lindsey, an Amazon spokeswoman told ProPublica. LinkedIn said that it was changing its tools to prevent age ranges in job ads.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg - also of Jewish origin - later apologised, saying the company is now strengthening its ad policies.
Facebook's ability to drill down when targeting ads has shown to be too good in some instances. An ad featuring a millennial would be targeted at a millennial, for example, while an ad targeting someone older than 40 might include a person with salt-and-pepper hair. State Farm pitched its hiring promotion to those 19 to 35. "We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory".
After being contacted by ProPublica and the Times, other employers, including Amazon, Northwestern Mutual and the New York City Department of Education, said they had changed or were changing their recruiting strategies. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. But this obscures an important distinction.
Facebook itself was also a part of the companies that ran the age-based career ads.
The employers' preference of a younger workforce might be a thing, but it surely raises questions about the discriminative practice of displaying the ads only to people of a certain age group.