Facebook ads targeting young workers focus of U.S. lawsuit

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A Washington employment lawyer said as much in an interview with The Times.

The lawsuit takes issue with a practice - the targeting of ads by age and demographics - that is ubiquitous in online advertising and is not limited to Facebook. Facebooked added that if used responsibly, age-based targeting is accepted practice and helps employers find the right kind of people.

The case was filed several days after the 50th anniversary of Congress passing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and on the same day the New York Times and ProPublica published a joint investigation raising concerns over job ads aimed at younger age groups on Facebook, Google and LinkedIn. Similar to how ProPublica illustrated past 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.

Verizon placed a Facebook ad a few weeks ago to recruit applicants for its unit that focuses on financial analysis and planning.

Facebook has argued in court filings that the law, the Communications Decency Act, makes it immune from liability for discriminatory ads.

Verizon is one of dozens of the leading employers in the USA including Goldman Sachs, Facebook, Target and Amazon that placed recruitment ads for limited aged groups, says a reported released by the New York Times and ProPublica. 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 meant to attract retirees.

Facebook allows its advertisers to choose an audience they want and then it will find the users with the extensive amount of data it collects about them. ProPublica bought job ads on Google and LinkedIn that excluded audiences older than 40 - and the ads were instantly approved.

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Three workers and a large union sued Facebook, T-Mobile, Amazon, Cox Communications and other companies this week, accusing them of using Facebook's ad-targeting tools to exclude older Americans from job opportunities.

The database of Facebook ads collected by ProPublica shows how often and precisely employers recruit by age.

Last month, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company would pause its ad tools' ability to exclude ad targets based on race and ethnicity.

These ads were tailored to pop up in the feed of people below 40 years of age, denying an older demographic the possibility of responding to the ads.

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.

Since many jurisdictions consider it a crime to aid and abet age discrimination - which it appears Facebook is indeed doing - they may be at risk of legal action themselves.

Some companies contend that there are permissible reasons to filter audiences by age, as with an ad for entry-level analyst positions at Goldman Sachs that was distributed to people 18-64.