Ads targeting specific age ranges or genders could be offside, say employment lawyers

Ads targeting specific age ranges or genders could be offside, say employment lawyers

targeting specific age ranges or genders could be offside, say employment lawyers

Facebook is allowing some of its advertisers to microtarget certain demographics with their job ads. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Facebook is allowing employers — including federal, provincial and municipal governments — to post job ads that target prospective employees in a way that some experts say could violate Canadian human rights law, CBC News has learned.

An investigation by CBC News found dozens of employers across Canada posted ads that were microtargeted at specific age ranges.

While the texts of the ads themselves don’t mention age, the settings that determine who sees the ads often exclude older workers. That might mean, for example, that those over age 45 or 50 wouldn’t see an ad for a job for which they might qualify.

A smaller number of the ads were targeted specifically at either women or men.

Facebook recently announced that, starting at the end of the year, it will bar U.S. employers from excluding workers from seeing Facebook job ads according to criteria like age or gender in order to settle legal cases filed against it by civil liberties groups.

However, Facebook spokesman Alex Kucharski said the change will only apply within the U.S.

“We will require any advertiser offering housing, employment and credit that wants to reach people in the U.S. to meet these new requirements. Doesn’t matter which country they are based,” he said.

“We will examine extending these requirements globally in the future.”

The non-discrimination policy posted on Facebook’s website says that “ads must not discriminate or encourage discrimination against people based on personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, medical or genetic condition.”

Under federal and provincial human rights laws in Canada, employers aren’t allowed to restrict who sees job ads based on age, gender, race or religion, unless the restriction is a bona fide occupational requirement or is part of a specific initiative, like a student summer job program.

An employer can legally limit its job outreach to adults by targeting the ads at people 18 and older, but can’t legally target people who are, say, 18 to 40 without demonstrating an occupational requirement.

Using an ad collector developed by the U.S. investigative journalism organization ProPublica, CBC News was able to identify nearly 100 Canadian employers who have run job ads on Facebook since November 2017 that would have been seen only by workers in a specific age range. Ads that appeared recently on a Facebook account whose profile was set to 34 years old were also gathered.

(The ads identified represent a fraction of the number of job ads that may have run in Canada during that period, since ProPublica’s ad collector only gathers ads posted by employers who have volunteered to download its browser extension.)

Of the more than 260 job ads identified, an estimated 60 per cent were targeted at people in particular age ranges in a way that could contravene human rights law unless the employer could demonstrate the restriction was legitimate.

Ten ads also targeted women, while six targeted men.

Employment lawyers Paul Champ and Janice Payne reviewed the job ads data gathered by CBC. They said many of the ads appear to violate Canadian human rights law.

“Many of them were compliant, saying 18 and older, which is perfectly fine, but others you saw … discriminating against older workers,” said Champ.

“In my view, if that is ever challenged, both Facebook and the companies that are placing those ads will have a hard time explaining themselves.”

Kucharski said advertisers sometimes design ad campaigns so that different age groups see different ads, while the overall campaign covers all age groups.

A number of the employers contacted by CBC News said their microtargeted job ads on Facebook were part of larger campaigns that could have been viewed by workers outside the target range.

Payne said that doesn’t really “solve the problem.”

“It’s still a problematic practice to microtarget a certain age group or a particular gender,” she said.

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