Last year, it emerged that Facebook's targeting tools allowed advertisers to prevent minorities from viewing housing ads. Now, it has come to light that Facebook also allows advertisers, including Verizon, Target and Amazon, to block people in some age groups from viewing job ads.
A ProPublica and New York Times report posted Wednesday evening outlines the considerable extent of age-based targeting by employers that takes place on Facebook. Verizon advertised jobs to people identified by Facebook as 25-36, UPS targeted users between the ages of 18 and 24, and AT&T targeted people ages 18-54, to name just a few of the many examples collected by ProPublica.
"Imagine a dystopian future when people over 40 can't get work because they don't even know which jobs are available," New York Times reporter Noam Scheiber, who co-authored the report, tweets. "Well, that future has arrived! Introducing age-targeted job ads on Facebook."
For its part, Facebook sees no problem with its age-targeting tool. "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," Rob Goldman, vice president of ads, writes.
Remarkably, he adds that showing ads to different age groups is comparable to running ads in magazines or TV shows that are aimed at older or younger demographic groups. But that defense overlooks a significant difference between offline media and the personalized ads shown online: People of all ages can pick up a copy of any magazine on the newsstands, be it Seventeen or AARP. But Facebook users are only capable of viewing the ads that are served to them.
A federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against people 40 and older based on age. But it's not clear whether Facebook is potentially liable for enabling alleged violations of that law.
The company, which currently faces suit for allegedly enabling illegal race-based housing ads, has argued in court that it isn't liable for ads on its platform that may violate civil rights laws. The company relies on the federal Communications Decency Act, which broadly immunizes Web services providers from liability for activity by users. But in 2008, a federal appellate court refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Roommates.com of offering discriminatory housing ads. The court said in that case that Roommates may be responsible if it helped "develop" illegal ads.