Facebook’s in the News Again: This Time for Age Discrimination

Facebook’s in the News Again: This Time for Age Discrimination

Many employers have been happily leveraging Facebook’s detailed demographic data to target exclusively younger candidates in their job ads. The result? Once again, Facebook has found itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In this case, the company was the focus of an age discrimination lawsuit

These detailed data fields completely excluded older applicants. Facebook has reached a settlement, and the company will stop letting employers target ads focusing on younger candidates. The agreement is a victory for older workers—those who may never have known that technology was being used to discriminate against them.

Facebook’s rich data fields are now the source of their problems

Facebook’s extensive data collection is one of things we love about this application, but it’s the subsequent use of that data that has backfired on them. Facebook was permitting advertisers to direct ads only to those who fit certain demographic features. If an employer wanted to hire candidates under 40, Facebook would show the job posting only to those who fell within that range. Those whose profiles showed they were 40 and older were unaware the ad existed.

Advertisers microtargetus according to the data we provide

Think about it: Every time you fill out a field on social media, you’re helping advertisers “microtarget” you. The more information you provide, the more valuable your demographic profile—especially if you’re on the higher end of the scale in terms of earning range, education level, location and job title. The cumulative worth and mismanagement of these rich data fields are the reasons Facebook and other tech companies are finding themselves in hot water.

California is getting serious about information accountability

Mismanagement has brought the power of data to the attention of the public and Congress. Beginning in 2020, new privacy laws will go into effect. In the event of a data breach, for instance, consumers will be able to sue for up to $750 for each violation. The law also gives the attorney general the right to pursue companies for intentional violations of privacy.

The ADEA protects those 40 and older from discrimination

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects people ages 40 and older from discrimination in employment. “It’s crucial that microtargeting not be used to exclude groups that already face discrimination,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the groups involved in the lawsuits. “We are pleased Facebook has agreed to take meaningful steps to ensure that discriminatory advertising practices are not given new life in the digital era, and we expect other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”

Facebook: Ads prohibited from targeting by age, race, gender and sex

Facebook said it will build a new section on its site for companies that want to advertise for jobs and housing. In this section, companies will be prohibited from targeting ads by age, race, gender or any other legally protected characteristic. Facebook also agreed to permit the ACLU to monitor the site for three years to make sure that it fully implements the changes in the settlement. The investigative journalism website ProPublica, which was instrumental in revealing Facebook’s advertising practices, is reporting that Facebook also will pay the plaintiffs $5 million, which largely will be used to pay legal fees.

Data has become a huge business, and many believe it requires more stringent regulation. While Facebook has been the most visible company to be involved in data breaches, it’s not the only company that has been profiting from its sale. It’s the one that got caught.

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg commits to doing more to prevent discrimination

“These changes mark an important step in our broader effort to prevent discrimination and promote fairness and inclusion on Facebook. But our work is far from over. We’re committed to doing more, and we look forward to engaging in serious consultation and work with key civil-rights groups, experts and policymakers to help us find the right path forward.”

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