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Facebook says age-based employment ads don't necessarily discriminate

  • Facebook, whose ads can be targeted by factors like age and race, is under fire for employment ads.
  • An investigation by Pro Publica and the New York Times charged the ads were in violation of laws banning age discrimination in hiring.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.
Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.

Facebook says employment ads that target younger users are not discriminatory if they're part of a broader recruitment campaign aimed at multiple age groups.

In a post written by Rob Goldman, the company's vice president of ads, Facebook hit back at a report published jointly by the New York Times and ProPublica, a public interest journalism group.

The report accused the company of allowing dozens of companies to use its targeting software to send job ads exclusively to Facebook users of a certain age, in violation of U.S. employment law.

But that's not necessarily true, Goldman argued.

"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. What matters is that marketing is broadly based and inclusive, not simply focused on a particular age group," Goldman wrote.

His post began with references to previous stories ProPublic has published showing that Facebook allowed users and businesses to place housing ads that excluded minorities and other ads directed at racists and anti-semites.

"In the last year ProPublica has uncovered a number of different flaws in our advertising systems. Several of them were serious failures on our part. It's why we apologized and took immediate action to prevent them in the future.

"Today ProPublica has raised new concerns about companies, including our own marketing team, using Facebook to show recruitment ads to specific age groups. We have carefully reviewed their concerns — and this time we disagree," Goldman wrote in the post.

The company has made changes to improve the transparency of its ad targeting systems, according to Goldman.

"We've also begun requiring businesses that show employment ads on Facebook to certify that they comply with the law before we show their ads. And our "why am I seeing this ad?" button has set the industry standard for ads transparency: it's why ProPublica was able to identify these ads in the first place," he wrote.

"In this case we disagree with ProPublica. Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice."