Facebook ads discriminate against women job-seekers, ACLU alleges

Facebook engages in widespread discrimination in job ads that it uses and provides for others, the ACLU and a major labor union allege.

In a complaint filed Tuesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the ACLU and the Communication Workers of America say Facebook allows those placing job ads to target potential applicants based on their gender, including women or those who do not identify as either men or women—violating state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

The complaint also list 10 employers that supposedly have placed discriminatory ads, including Abas USA; the City of Greensboro, North Carolina; and Nebraska Furniture Mart. 

Facebook requires its 2 billion users to select a gender when they first create an account, and provides ad-targeting tools that allow a potential employer to exclude a particular gender from ever seeing an ad. And Facebook's dominance as a job-search tool means it acts more like a recruitment agency than an ad service, the ACLU alleges.

"When employers want to recruit applicants for employment, Facebook performs nearly all of the necessary functions of an employment agency and marketing firm," the complaint says. "Facebook helps the employer to create the ad; collects, develops and provides databases of information on Facebook users to employers so that such employers can know which individuals are looking for employment, know various types of information about those applicants, such as their age and gender, and exclude certain groups of people from their ad campaigns."  

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The complaint continues to allege that Facebook "coordinates with the employer to develop the recruitment, marketing and/or advertising strategy to determine which people will and will not receive the ads; delivers the ads to prospective applicants based on the employer's preferences; collects payments for these services from the employer; informs the employer of the performance of the ad campaign with numerous data analytics; and retains copies of the ads and data related to them."

A Facebook spokesperson tells CBS News the company is "reviewing the complaint and [we] look forward to defending our practices."

"There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it's strictly prohibited in our policies, and over the past year, we've strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse," the Facebook spokesperson said. 

Abas, one of the employers named in the complained, denied the claims that it discriminated, calling them "false and reckless." In a statement, the company said that it posted an ad targeting women applicants and a nearly identical ad aimed at men, which produced no applicants. 

"This was the first and last time that we used Facebook ads targeted towards men and women," the company said.

Facebook has come under fire in the past for allowing ads that discriminate against different ethnic groups, older people, families and people with disabilities or that cater to hate groups. It changed some of its ad systems this year to prevent discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion and other characteristics, but those changes didn't extend to gender, the ACLU claims.