Facebook Is Cracking Down on Ad Discrimination. But the Bias May Be Embedded in Its Own Algorithms.

Facebook has taken significant steps this year to address charges that its ad targeting tools have allowed advertisers for jobs, housing, and loans to discriminate against minority groups. But what if all Facebook ads in these categories are illegal? That’s the explosive claim made by attorneys in an age discrimination lawsuit that goes straight to the heart of Facebook’s billion-dollar business model.

Most advertisers can opt to advertise their products to specific audiences, excluding certain ages, genders, or races. For example, there’s no requirement that a fashion designer advertise men’s clothing to women. But ads in some industries are regulated by federal law. It is illegal, for example, to exclude women from employment ads. Under federal civil rights laws, ads for housing, employment, and loans cannot target or exclude certain races, genders, ages, religions, or other so-called protected characteristics.

Facebook has come under fire for enabling advertisers to select which demographics they want to reach with ads for homes, jobs, and credit. Under a settlement reached in March to resolve multiple lawsuits, Facebook agreed to limit the criteria advertisers could use to select an audience for ads in these categories in order to stop discriminatory ad targeting.

But a lawsuit that could go to trial this year argues that even when advertisers aren’t excluding certain groups, Facebook’s algorithms still deliver ads in a discriminatory way—in this case, by excluding older people. The lawsuit, from the Communications Workers of America, was actually not filed against Facebook, but against Amazon and T-Mobile, which the suit alleges purposefully excluded older people from seeing their Facebook ads. That’s because the algorithms are designed to deliver ads to the users most likely to click on them. Often, the lawsuit alleges, Facebook determines that older users are less like to be interested in a job and therefore prevents older users from seeing job ads, even when the advertisers do not exclude them.

The suit was initially filed in 2017, but it is still pending and could take on new significance in the wake of the settlement. Next week, Amazon and T-Mobile are expected to file their motion to dismiss. After that, federal judge Beth Labson Freeman will likely decide whether the case can proceed to trial later this year.

If it moves forward, the biggest consequences might not be for the defendants but for Facebook. Lawyers for the Communications Workers allege that even if Amazon and T-Mobile had not tried to direct their employment ads to younger audiences, as the lawsuit claims, Facebook’s algorithms would have done it for them.

“It’s no different than if you hire a recruiting firm and you know that that recruiting firm is going to disproportionately not recruit women or older people,” says Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney at the employment firm Outten & Golden LLP who is representing the Communications Workers and three older plaintiffs in the suit against Amazon and T-Mobile. Romer-Friedman says the goal is for the court to prohibit Amazon and T-Mobile from advertising on Facebook until Facebook removes age from …read more

Source:: Mother Jones


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